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A Guide

To
Rational Living
by ..

Albert Ellis Ph.D.


and

Robert A. Harper Ph.D.

PRENTICE HALL, INC.

ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J.

Table of Contents

Chapter
1 How Far Can You Go With Self-Analysis?
2 You Feel as You Think
3 Feeling Well by Thinking Straight
4 What Your Feelings Really Are
5 Thinking Yourself Out of Emotional Disturbances
6 Recognizing and Attacking Neurotic Behavior
7 Overcoming the Influences of the Past
8 How Reasonable is Reason?
9 The Art of Never Being Desperately Unhappy
10 Tackling Dire Needs for Approval
11 Eradicating Dire Fears of Failure
12 How to Stop Blaming and Start Living
13 How to Be Happy Though Frustrated
14 Controlling Your Own Destiny
15 Conquering Anxiety
16 Acquiring Self-discipline
17 Rewriting Your Personal History
18 Accepting Reality
19 Overcoming Inertia and Becoming Creatively Absorbed
20 Living Rationally in an Irrational World
References

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1.

How Far
Can You Go

With Self-Analysis?

People OFTEN SAY to us, "Look, let's suppose that your principles of rational
therapy actually work. Let's suppose that you really can, as you claim, teach
any intelligent human being not to be desperately unhappy about practically anything. If all this is true, why don't you just put your theories in a
book and let us read them. That way, we'd save a whale of a lot of time,
trouble, and treasure going for psychotherapy."
We usually demur.
Self-analysis, we point out, has distinct limitations. No matter how clearly
the principles of self-help are stated, people often misunderstand or distort
them. They read into these principles what they want to read-and ignore
some of their most salient aspects. They oversimplify, edit out most of the
author's carefully stated its, ands, and buts, and use the most cautiously
stated rules as if they were breezy slogans which can be cavalierly applied
to any affiicted person in any situation.
Worse yet, the amount of lip-service which thousands of readers give to
psychological, moral, social, and other principles in which they stoutly
say they believe is amazingly vast. "I just don't know how to thank you,"
they keep. saying and writing, "for having written that wonderful book! I
keep re-reading it all the time and it's been the greatest help to me." But
when you correspond or speak with them further, you are startled to find
that they often are doing nothing along the lines you painstakingly described in your "wonderful book"-or that their actual behavior is diametrically opposed to your advocacies.

A Guide To Rational Living

This is the unique advantage of intensive psychotherapy over almost any


other form of reconstructive teaching: it provides for systematic and periodic checks on whether the therapist's message is really getting home to the
patient or client. Somewhere in the early part of treatment, the active-directive, rational psychotherapist ( quite unlike the passive orthodox psychoanalyst or the non-directive therapist, with whom we respectfully but
wholeheartedly disagree) clearly indicates to the emotionally disturbed
individual that not only is he off beam, but that if he wants to get on a saner
course he is going to have to see that he is thinking and acting in one or
more irrational ways and is going to bave to forcefully challenge his illogical assumptions and begin to think and act in more rational and less
self-defeating ways.
"Very well," says the average cooperative patient after a fairly short
period of this kind of therapy, "I think I pretty much see what you mean.
I'm going to try to do as you say and challenge my own nonsense that is
creating my emotional disturbance." And he does try, and soon (perhaps
even the very next session) comes back to report Significant progress. He
reports, for example (as one of our patients stated a few months ago), "Say,
this is really great! I did exactly what you told me to do. Instead of groveling before my wife, as usual, when she laid me out for having come to see
you, supposedly telling tales about her, and spending money for treatment, I remembered what you said. 'What is her motive,' I asked myself,
for being angry? I'll bet that, just as the Doctor said, she's really sick herself, underneath, and is just trying to cover up for her own weakness by.
laying me out. But this time I'm not going to take her so seriously and let
myself get upset by her weakness.' And I didn't. I didn't let it bother me at
all."
"Fine!" said the therapist, feeling that perhaps this patient really was
learning how to question his own assumptions regarding himself and his
wife and to act more rationally in record time. "And then, when you didn't
let it bother you, what did you do, how did you behave toward your wife?"
"Oh, that was easy!" said the patient. "I just said to myself again-just
like you told me to, Doctor-Look, I'm not going to let this sick female
get away with this kind of stuff any longer. I've taken enough of it for much
too long now. Enough is enough!' And I really let her have it. I wasn't
afraid, as I usually would be, and I told her exactly what 1 thought of her,
how goddam stupid she was, how you agreed with me that she was giving
me too hard a time, and how if she kept up that kind of stuff any longer
I'd push her goddam teeth in and make her swallow them. Oh, I really let
her have itl Just like you told me."
"I did? I told you that?" asked the appalled therapist. And for the next few
sessions, by careful repetition and the use of the simplest examples tailored
HOW FAR CAN YOU GO WITH SELF-ANALYSIS?

to order this particular patient and his level of understanding, he was


able-finally!-to show him that what he really meant. Yes, the patient
should first learn to question his wife's motives, and not take her disapproval
too seriously; but that he should also learn not to condemn her (or anyone
else) for being the way she was, but should try to accept and forgive her
shrewishness and sympathetically help her, if possible, to overcome it.
Eventually (actually, after three and a half months of rational psychotherapy on a once-a-week basis), this patient did learn a great part of the
message that the therapist did his best to convey to him, but only after
persistent repetition by the therapist, backsliding by the patient, more explanation by the therapist, renewed experimental attempts by the patient
to apply what he thought were the therapist's instructions, still more corrective repetitions by the therapist, and so on, until reasonably final victory
now, at the present writing, seems in sight.
This, then, is one of the main advantages of intensive psychotherapy: its

repetitive, experimenting, revising, practicing nature. And this is what no


book, sermon, article, or series of lectures, no matter how excellently expositive and explicative, can fully give. This is why the authors of this book
intend to continue doing individual and group psychotherapy and training
other psychotherapists. Whether we like it or not, the great majority of
seriously disturbed people cannot be expected to really get at the root of
their problems and rid themselves of their needless anxiety and hostility
without some amount of intensive, direct contact with a competent therapist. It would be perfectly lovely, from the standpoint of the patient, the
therapist, and society, if this were not so; but let us face it: it is.
Now for a look at the other side of the fence. While most emotionally
disturbed individuals only benefit to a limited extent by reading and hearing material designed to help them understand and combat their disturbances, some do derive considerable, albeit rarely complete, help thereby.
A case in point is that of the fifty-year-old engineer who visited one of the
authors after reading his book, How to Live with a Neurotic (1957). This
man had a wife who was obviously psychotic and with whom he had had
a most difficult time getting along for the twenty-eight years of their marriage. He reported that, until he read the book, he had been continually
angry at her because of her behavior; but after reading it twice, almost all
his anger vanished and he was able to live quite peaceably, though not
entirely happily, with her and to devote himself much more effectively to
protecting their three children from some of the effects of her erratic behavior.
"One passage in the book particularly helped me," this gentleman reported, "After I read and re-read that passage several times, almost all my

4 A Guide To Rational Living


anger against my wife seemed to melt away, as if by magic. It really impressed me very much."
"And what was that passage?" the therapist asked.
"In your chapter on how to live with a person who remains emotionally
disturbed, you say, 'all right, Jones gets drunk every night and he is noisywhat do you expect a drunk to be-sober?' That really hit me. And I asked
myself: 'What do you expect your crazy wife to be-sane?' That did it.
Of course, I couldn't expect her to be sane. But I could expect me to be.
Ever since then, would you believe it? I've been acting a heck of a lot differently-more sanely."
And as far as the therapist could see, he had been acting in a manner
much more rational and less self-defeating since he took this particularly
pertinent passage in this book to heart.
Another instance is even more spectacular. An ex-patient, whom we shall
call Bob Smith spent a year and a half in a state hospital (several years ago)
with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He has been working in the
community for the past five years and doing remarkably well. Not only has
he been able to work steadily and to take care of his family, but he has also
been of considerable aid to many other emotionally disturbed individuals.
But Bob Smith has had his problems. For a couple of years he has not been
able to talk to his parents (who, as might be expected, have their own
personality difficulties). He has been on the verge of divorcing his wife.
He has been afraid to do many things he would have liked to do, particularly
in relation to approaching various people and discussing intimate or "embarrassing" situations with them. In many ways-even as you and I-he has
been terribly bottled up, defensive, and hostile.
Came the dawn-to be precise, May 26, 1960. After running across the
article, "An Impolite Interview with Albert Ellis," in the March and May
1960 issues of the iconoclastic magazine, The Realist, and tracking down
some of the main papers on rational psychotherapy published in professional journals, Bob Smith went through mental mood changes "the likes
of which I never felt before." He suddenly learned a simple fact: ''People
and things are not in themselves upsetting. Rather, it is our telling ourselves
that they are upsetting which upsets us."
This main tenet of what Bob Smith refers to as the "anti-unhappiness
formula," which is his own simplified restatement of twelve principles of
rational psychotherapy first presented in a paper at the American Psychological Association annual meeting in Chicago in August, 1956, and later
published in the Journal of General Psychology (1958), remarkably
changed his life. Almost immediately, he began talking to his parents,
getting along much better with his wife, and discussing with people exactly
the things he had fearfully refrained from discussing for years.
HOW FAR CAN YOU GO WITH SELF-ANALYSIS?

Not only did he effect some almost incredible unblockings in his own
thinking and doing, but Bob Smith also began talking to others, sending out
leaflets, writing letters, and doing a host of other things that he hopes will
lead to a "chain reaction" of interest in rational living. He believes that by
continuing this chain, and inducing important people and statesmen to
think sanely and stop upsetting themselves with the belief that other people
and events are upsetting them, unusual strides toward world peace may
eventually be taken. Whether he is right or wrong about this, he has
certainly helped himself to think straight and is now leading a more productive and peaceful existence.
So it can be done. With or without prior psychological sophistication, an
individual can read or hear about a new idea, can forcefully set about applying it to his own thought and action, and can carve amazingly constructive changes in his own psyche. Not everyone, of course, can or will do

this. And few of those who, theoretically, are able to do so, actually ever
will. But some can; and some will.
History gives us several outstanding instances of individuals who significantly changed themselves and helped change others by hard-headed
thinking. Zeno of Citium, for example, who flourished in the third century
B.C., and founded the Greek Stoic school of philosophy. The Greek philosopher, Epicurus; the Phrygian, Epictetus; the Roman emperor, Marcus
Aurelius; the Dutch Jew, Baruch Spinoza. These were just a few of the
outstanding rational thinkers who, after reading about the teachings of
still earlier thinkers (Heraclitus and Democritus, among others), and doing
some tall thinking of their own, not only enthusiastically adopted philosophies of life radically different from their original beliefs but-what is
more to the point for purposes of our present discussion-actually began
to live these philosophies, to act in accordance with them.
All this, mind you, without benefit of what we today would call formal
psychotherapy. Granted, of course, that these were outstanding individuals;
and that, in the entire history of mankind, their number seems to have been
relatively few. But the important thing is that they did it-did see the light
of another's reasoning and did use this enlightenment for their own saner
living.
Can basic personality change then, really be effected except by intensive
psychotherapy? Most modem authorities strongly say "No!" Thus, Freud,
Rank, Reich, Rogers, and Sullivan all stoutly contend that certain therapeutic conditions must exist and continue over a period of time if basic
personality change is to be effected in disturbed individuals. But all possible weight of authoritative quoting hardly proves anything .other than
that the quoted authorities agree.
Our own position is this: Granted that basic personality disturbance

6 A Guide To Rational Living


usually is so deep-seated and longstanding that it almost always requires
persistent psychotherapeutic help to overcome, this is by no means always
true. Although basic constructive personality change-as opposed to
temporary symptom removal-seems to require fundamental modifications
in the ideologies and value systems of disturbed individuals, there is
probably no single condition which is absolutely necessary for the inducement of such changed attitudes and behavior patterns. Many conditions,
such as those listed by the therapists mentioned in our last paragraph, or
such as we list in several of our previously published papers on rational
psychotherapy, are highly desirable. But all that seems to be necessary is
that the individual somehow come up against significant life experiences
or learn about others' experiences or sit down and think for himself or
enter a relationship with a therapist who will help him reconstruct his basic
attitudes toward himself and others.
Let us, then, not denigrate self-analysis, however limited, for the most
part, it tends to be. Rare, almost to the point of being non-existent, are those
who fully perform it. But it does exist; it can be effectively done.
In one sense, indeed, self-analysis is a requisite for all basic personality
change. For even when a disturbed individual does receive competent, adequate, persistent therapeutic help, and even when this help is truly salutary, unless it is highly accompanied by persistent and forceful self-analysis,
it will tend to produce superficial and non-lasting results. As we often explain to our psychotherapy patients and marriage counseling clients, particularly during the early treatments, it is not what the therapist tells the
individual that helps this individual overcome his emotional disturbances,
but what the patient or client does with what the therapist tells him.
More concretely: although the effective therapist must somehow teach his
patients to think straight, he cannot at any time really think for them. Even
though he may temporarily advise them exactly what to do in a given life
situation, and although they may benefit immensely from following his advice, he must eventually get them to think for themselves=otherwise, they
will never be cured, and will always be dependent upon him or on others.
This means that therapy, in essence, largely consists of teaching the patient effective self-analysis: How, specifically, to observe his own feelings
and actions, how to evaluate them objectively instead of moralistically or
grandiosely, and how to change them, by consistent effort and practice, so
that he may achieve the things that he most wants to do in this brief span
of human existence while, Simultaneously, not interfering seriously with
the preferences of others. Self-analysis, in this sense of the term, is not
merely an important but actually a requisite aspect of successful psychotherapy.
Which brings us to one of the main purposes of writing this book. Not only
HOW FAR CAN YOU GO WITH SELF-ANALYSIS?

do we hope that it will reach many individuals who have never had (though
many of them well could use some) psychotherapeutic help of any sort,
and that it will help some of the more earnest and work-oriented of these
individuals to think more clearly and act more effectively in regard to their
personality problems. We also hope that it will serve as useful supplementary reading for the millions of Americans who have had or are now
having some amount of psychotherapeutic assistance.
Continually, in our separate but similar practices of psychotherapy and
marriage counseling, patients and clients ask us: "What can we read that
will help us while we are undergoing therapy? Have you any kind of a
reading list to supplement our work with you?" In answer to these questions,
we try to suggest some suitable reading for these patients and have included
some references for this purpose in the bibliography at the end of this
volume.
Since, however, we do a particular kind of treatment that we call rational

psychotherapy which is, as yet, practiced by only a minority of therapists,


and since most of the published material in the area of self-analysis and of
personality evaluation and treatment only partially includes some of our
most utilized principles (and includes many other views we consider to be
of highly dubious validity), we find great difficulty in referring our inquirers to even a single book that we would consider to be adequate supplementary reading. The present volume incorporates our attempt to provide the kind of book that goes distinctly beyond our two earlier and
less comprehensive books in this area-How to Live with a Neurotic and

Creative Marriage.
A few words of caution, before we go on to the meat of our material. First
of all, we should like to note that this book is not to be considered a technical
and full exposition of our theories and techniques of rational psychotherapy.
These have been briefly expounded in several articles in professional literature and will be comprehensively discussed in a weighty tome that will, we
hope, soon be forthcoming, In this book, on which we have been working
for the past several years, we shall present details of the experimental and
clinical evidence for our point of view and shall give concrete descriptions
of clinical applications of this viewpoint.
To those who want to get specific help from this book, we must again
warn-no book, including this one, can meet in every detail your particular
desire for' help. There is always something unique about your individual
situation, therefore a book cannot be a fully adequate substitute for personalized psychotherapy or counseling. It can, however, nicely supplement
or reinforce any individual help you are getting; and, as noted above, in
some instances, it can encourage a degree of self-analysis on your part that

8 A Guide To Rational Living


may result in your much more adequately handling some of your major
problems.
Still another caveat. Remember that the English language, including
those variations of it in this book, is limited. Because we, like other writers
in the field of mental health, use words such as "creativity," "happiness,"
"love," "maturity," and "problem-solving," do not jump to the conclusion
that we are handing out the same old, hackneyed, pollyanish, "spiritual"
message that you may have long ago considered and rejected as being of no
practical value in your life. Superficially, some of the things we say may
sound like "positive thinking," let-us-pray-for-the-best-ism, orthodox stoicism, or other utopian credo. Actually, they are not. Try reading the anti-unhappiness principles we present in this book; then try thinking and acting
on them. We confidently expect that you, like many of our individual and
group psychotherapy patients, will find that we've "got something there."
Here, then, is our plan for straight thinking and rational living. Read it
carefully and with all due allowances for our limitations as communicators
and yours as a receiver of intelligence. No matter how good the rules of
living that we set before you, remember that what reads easily and simply
may be quite difficult and complicated to believe and to act upon. Do not
assume that because you have read and understood some of our practical
suggestions for improving your life functioning that-that is that. That is
not that: you still have again and again to go through the usual ( or unusual)
time-consuming and energy-exacting task of seeing, challenging, and blocking out old self-defeating behavior patterns and learning new, self-fulfilling
ways of thinking, perceiving, feeling, and doing.
Well, happy thinkingl

-------------------------

You Feel
As You Think

"WHAT YOU SAY, Dr.

Harper, seems on the surface to be plausible and


sensible. And it would be all very nice if human beings actually worked as
simply as you indicate that they do! But, frankly, what you and Dr. Ellis
call your theory of rational psychotherapy sounds to me, when you probe
a little into it, very superficial, antipsychoanalytic, and like a few pages out
of the how-to-lift-yourself-by-your-bootstraps school of slick magazine psychology."
The speaker, Dr. B---, was a member of a group of educators to whom
I had been asked (as both authors of this book frequently are) to describe
the tenets of rational therapy. And he was partly right. Some of our ideas on
RT do sound superficial. And they are contrary to the point of view of
orthodox psychoanalysis-though not too far from some of the views of
those who follow the teachings of Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, Harry
Stack Sullivan, Erich Fromm, and the psychoanalysts who stress the newer
"ego psychology."
Still, I couldn't help taking my heckler somewhat to task-not because
I thought I could change his mind, for who can unfreeze the prejudices of a
trained psychotherapist-and not because I itched to put him in his place
(for the luxury of venting one's spleen on others is, as we shall show later
in this book, no reward for the truly rational person), but because I thought
that his objections might be turned to good account to demonstrate one of
the main principles of RT for the rest of my audience.
"You are presumably objecting," I said, "to our view that human feelings

9
10

A Guide To Rational Living

and emotions are much different from, and more than, thoughts and ideas,
and that they cannot be changed, as I have just said they could, simply by
changing the person's thinking. Is that your main point?"
"It is. We have fifty or a hundred years' history of experimental and
clinical findings that prove entirely otherwise."
"Perhaps so. But suppose we forget this hundred years of history for a
moment and concentrate on the history of the last few moments. Just a short
while ago, as I was giving my talk on rational therapy, you were having some
real intense emotional feelings, were you not?"
"I certainly was! I was feeling that you were an idiot and should not be
allowed to go on spouting such nonsense."
"Fine," I said, as the rest of my audience gleefully howled. "But you also,"

I persisted, "had another emotion, just before you stood up to speak against
me did you not?"
"I did? What kind of an emotion do you mean?"
"Well, unless I miss being worth my salt as a clinician, I would say that,
judging from the high and uneven pitch of your voice as you just spoke,
you had at least a little bit of anxiety about getting up among your peers
here and voicing your anti-Harperian opinion. Am I totally incorrect about
this?"
"-Uh-" My antagonist hesitated for several long seconds (while the
knowing smiles of the members of the audience were now in my favor).
"No-. I guess you're not totally incorrect. I did have some anxiety just
before speaking and during the first part of my words; though it's all gone
now. "
"All right. Just as I imagined, then. You had two emotions while I was
speaking: anger and anxiety. And now, at this present moment, you seem to
have neither. Is that correct too?"
"Definitely. I am no longer anxious or angry-though perhaps I feel a
little pity for you for still holding to what I think is an untenable position."
Touche! Again the smiles were behind him.
"Good. Maybe well go into the feeling of pity for me a little later. But
let's, for a moment, get back to the anxiety and anger. Would I be quite
wrong in assuming that behind your anger was some chain of sentences
such as: "That idiot, Harper-along with that other nincompoop colleague
of his, Ellis-is mouthing the veriest of hogwash. There ought to be a law
against his boring us to tears with this kind of stuff at what might otherwise
be a highly scientific meeting'?"
"Precisely! How did you guess?" Again the chorus of snickers was pretty
solidly behind him. I continued:
"It must, again, be my clinical intuition. Anyway, you did have such a
thought, and you were angry. And our thesis in rational therapy is just
11 YOU FEEL AS YOU THINK

that: that your thought-'Dr. Harper is not only mouthing hogwash but he
shouldn't be allowed to do so'-is the real and virtually sole source of your
anger. Indeed, in one sense of the term, this thought is your anger. Moreover,
our thesis is that the reason you are not, at this present moment, still angry,
is because you have replaced the original thought with quite a different one,
namely: 'Oh, well, even if he's wrong, Dr. Harper really believes this nonsense; and if the poor fellow wants to keep believing it, that's his problem.'
And this new thought, I and Dr. Ellis would contend, is at the heart of your
present state of feeling, which you quite accurately describe, I think, as
'pity.'"
Before my opponent could say anything further, another member of the
audience interjected: "Suppose you are right about Dr. B--'s feelings of
anger and now pity. What about his anxiety?"
"I was just going to get around to that," I replied. "According, again, to
the theories of rational therapy, what happened in connection with his
anxiety was as follows. As I was talking, and as he was inciting himself to
anger by telling himself what an impossible person I was, Dr. B-- was
also saying to himself something along these lines: 'Just wait till Harper
stops talking! Boy, have I something to say that will show everyone what
an idiot he is (and what a bright boy I really am for being able to see what
an idiot he is and show him up before everyone!). Let me see, now, how
shall I squelch him, when I get the chance?'
"And then, I further suggest, Dr. B-- tested several opening sentences
in his mind, rejected some of them quickly, thought others might do, and
kept looking for still better ones with which to annihilate my thesis. Not
only, however, did he objectively try to discover the best set of phrases and
sentences he could use against me, but he also kept saying to himself: 'What
will the other members of the group think? Will they think I'm just as
foolish as Harper? Will they be swayed by his charm? Will they think that
I'm just jealous of his and Ellis's success with patients and with their writings? Will it really do me any good to open my big mouth against him?'

"These self-created and self-perpetuated sentences of Dr. B-'s, I hypothesize, caused him to be anxious-and, as I noted before in regard to his
anger, in a certain sense were his anxiety. Is that, Dr. B--, not so? Am I so
wide from the mark again?"
"You're probably not entirely wrong," my opponent acquiesced, with
more than a shade of embarrassed redness on his face and nearly-bald pate,
"but doesn't everyone, do not all of us, say things to ourselves like this before
we get up to talk about almost anything in public?"
'We most certainly do," I heartily agreed. "And, believe me, I am using
your internalized sentences as an example here only because they are an
illustration of what virtually all of us do. But that's just the point I am

12 A Guide To Rational Living


trying to make-that precisely because all of us keep telling ourselves
these kinds of sentences, we are more or less anxious before speaking in
public. Because we tell ourselves (a) 'I might make a mistake and fall
on my face before this group of my peers' and, much more important, tell
ourselves (b) 'And wouldn't that be awful if 1 did make a mistake and fall
on my face in public?'-precisely because we tell ourselves these catastrophizing sentences, we almost immediately began to feel anxious. Otherwise,
if we told ourselves only sentence (a) but instead of (b), said to ourselves
quite a different sentence, which we might call (b'), namely, "So what? If
I make a mistake and fall on my face, it won't be great, but it still won't be
awful' -if this is what we told ourselves at (b'), we would practically never
be anxious."
"But suppose," the same educator who had first asked about Dr. B--'s
anxiety interrupted again, "suppose you are right, Dr. Harper, in regard
to how B-- was creating his anxiety. How do you explain its later disappearance, in terms of your theory of RT?"
"Very simply again. Having screwed up sufficient courage to speak in
spite of his self-created anxiety, Dr. B-- found that, even though he did
perhaps partly fall on his face, at least to the extent of not fully annihilating
me, the world did not come to an end, and no actual catastrophe occurred.
At worst, he found that 1 kept standing up to his assault and that some of
the members of the audience still seemed to be on my side, although perhaps some also sided with him. So he changed his internalized sentences to
something like:
"'Oh, well. Harper still doesn't really get my point and see what falsehoods he's propounding here, and some of these other people are still on his
side, but that's just too damned bad. You can always fool some of the people
some of the time, and I just can't expect it to be any different. Ill just bide
my time, continue to present my view, and even if 1 don't win everyone over
to it, I can still effectively hold it myself.'
"With this new, anti-catastrophizing chain of sentences, Dr. B-- has
dispelled the anxiety he previously caused himself and is now, as he again
has probably accurately reported, more pitying than angry or upset. Is
that not correct?"
My opponent again hesitated a moment; then replied "I can only repeat
that you may be partially correct, and that there may be something in what
you say; but I'm still not entirely convinced."
"Nor did I expect that you would be. I just wanted to use your own example to induce you to give this matter some additional thought, and try to
encourage the rest of the members of this audience to do likewise. Maybe
rational psychotherapy is, as you say, superficial and overly slick. All I
YOU FEEL AS YOU THINK

am asking is that you professional people give it an honest try and see for
yourself whether it really is."
As far as I know, I have never, to this day, convinced my heckler of the
soundness of our RT position. But at least three other members of my audience that day are now RT enthusiasts-who, with their students, as well as
in relation to every potential crisis in their own lives, are beginning more
incisively to see that human emotions and feelings are not magically existent in their own right, and do not mysteriously flow from totally unconscious or repressed somatic needs and psychic desires. Rather, they almost
always, in the case of adolescents and adults, and even in that of fairly
young children, directly stem from ideas, thought, attitudes, or beliefs, and
can usually be radically changed by modifying the thinking processes that
keep creating them.
All of which brings us to the paramount thesis of this book: namely, that
man can live the most self-fulfilling, creative, and emotionally satisfying

13

3.

life by intelligently organizing and disciplining his


the pages
that follow will, in one way or another, bear testimony
central, rational psychotherapeutic view.

thinking. All
to this

Feeling Well
by Thinking Straight

'WHAT DO YOU mean

by a person's intelligently organizing and disciplining his thinking?" we are often asked by our patients, friends, and professional associates.
Answer: "Exactly that. Just what we say."
"But when you say that by rationally and realistically organizing and
disciplining his thinking a human being can live the most self-fulfilling,
creative, and emotionally satisfying life, you make that 'life' sound like a
cold, intellectual, mechanical, and, to be candid, rather unpleasant affair."
"Maybe so. But isn't it possible that it sounds that way because most of
us have been propagandized to believe, by our parents, teachers, and other
purveyors of information, that highly 'emotional' experiences are the only
'real' way of 'living it up' and 'getting the most out of life'? Isn't it likely
that fiction writers and dramatists, in particular, by sentimentally rationalizing some of their own 'emotional' excesses, have often been responsible for
spreading the dubious notion that unless one keeps roller-coasting from
deep depression to brief manic joy and then down to the bogs of despair
again one is 'not really living'?"
"Oh, come now! Aren't you exaggerating?"
"Yes, probably. But aren't you?"
"I'm not sure. Surely you don't, in your own personal lives, always behave like cold-blooded, big-brained, emotion-squelching individuals who
never feel any sorrow, pain, joy, elation-or anything?"
'We hope we don't. And we can get affidavits from sundry past and

14
FEELING WELL BY THINKING STRAIGHT

15

present wives, sweethearts, friends, and co-workers to prove that we don't.


But whoever said that well-organized, rational thinking was incompatible
with intense emotion?"
"We did, if you'll recall, right at the beginning of this chapter. And as yet
you rational therapy boys haven't done a thing to disprove our statement.
Where's your evidence?"
"Oh, yes; to be sure. You did say that rational thinking appears to lead to
a cold, intellectual, mechanical, and, to be candid, rather unpleasant' kind
of life."
Well?"
Well what? It's your hypothesis. And, according to the first principles of
science, the onus of proof is invariably on the individual who hypothesizes,
and surely not on him who doubts the original assumption. You seem to be
assuming that just because reason may interfere with the sensing and expression of intense emotion (and we definitely grant that it may) that it
therefore must so interfere. When and how are you going to prove that?"
"A good point," our questioners often admit. "Reasoning need not interfere seriously with intense emotion but isn't it nonetheless true that it

normally tends to do so?"


"Not that we've ever found-nor that anyone else ever seems to have
incontrovertibly proved. It may well be true that reasoning normally
blocks highly exaggerated, disorganizing, or pathologically excessive emotion. Indeed, that is one of our main tenets of rational therapy-that since
a human individual finds it virtually impossible to think of two major things
at exactly the same moment, and since emotion is normally created by
thinking, the more an excessively or pathologically emoting (or what is
generally called an emotionally disturbed) individual thinks, the less he
can at one and the same time continue to sustain his pathological state of
feeling."
Then you've practically admitted our charge," our questioners often
interject at this point. "You've just said that rational thinking and intense
emotion cannot co-exist and that the former drives away the latter."
"Nothing of the sort! You've illegitimately substituted the word 'intense'
-which we did not use-for the words 'exaggerated: disorganizing: and
,
. ",
excessive.
"What a silly quibble! Aren't they the same?"
"Not necessarily. Intense emotion may be-often, in fact, clearly isquite appropriate, realistic, and salutary. Intense feelings of love may be
experienced in connection with a most suitable object (such as a truly fine
member of the other sex). It may be expressed quite appropriately by treating the beloved affectionately and inducing him or her to be your steady
companion or mate. And it may lead to highly fortunate results, for ex-

16 A Guide To Rational Living


ample, inducing the lover to work harder at his art or profession or encouraging him to feel more kindly to others. Exaggerated, disorganizing, or
excessive love, on the other hand, would rarely if ever lead to these actions
or results."
"Your main point seems to be, then," interject our skeptics, "that although
disorganizing emotion is largely incompatible with rational .thinking, intensely pleasant emotions are not. Is that correct?"
"Most correct. We would contend, in fact, that truly rational thinking
almost inevitably leads to pleasant emotions of varying degrees of intensity. And, perhaps even more importantly, we particularly hold that
once human reason is properly maximized and utilized to rid people 'Of their
disorganizing and disruptive feelings-that is, of their severe emotional
blockings caused by many dreadful kinds of anxiety and anger-only then
can highly pleasurable and productive feelings consistently exist. We say,
in other words, the more reason, the more emotion-of a fortunate and joyevoking kind."
"Very interesting. But this is your hypothesis. And, as you so cleverly
noted before, the onus is now on you to prove the validity of this view."
"Right. And prove it we shall,in the remaining pages of this book, by
presenting a mass of clinical, experimental, personal, and other data. But
the most important and most unique proof of all, in some ways, is one that
you will have to try for yourself."
"Who-----us?"
"Yes-you. If you really want to see whether the theories we are about
to present and back up are of more than passing worth to you-and that,
after all, is what you are really interested in,-then we would strongly
advise you to keep, for the most part, your present appropriately skeptical
frame of mind, but also experimentally to put it in abeyance from time to
time and give yourself a chance to try out our rational viewpoint in some
aspects of your own life. Take some area in which you think you are needlessly unhappy-some grief, guilt, or grandiosity that keeps repetitively
ravaging you-and try, really try, some of our thinking formulas on yourself
in connection with these personal miseries. Don't accept what we say on
faith, no matter how persuasive we may seem. Try our notions for yourself,
see to what results they lead."
"Seems fair enough. Maybe we shall try."
"O.K., then. Let's see if we can get on with some of the evidence to back
our basic theories of rational living and pleasant emoting."
At this point, we generally swing into some of the basic theories behind
the principles of rational living which we shall now briefly delineate for
our readers.
As noted, human feeling is really a product of, and in some ways a form
FEELING WELL BY THINKING STRAIGHT

of, human thinking. Does this mean that all emotions and creativity can
or should be controlled by reason and intellect? Not exactly.
The human individual has four basic processes, all of which are indispensable to his behaving adequately and all of which are interconnected:
( 1) He perceives or senses-that is, sees, tastes, smells, feels, hears. (2)
He moves or acts-walks, eats, swims, throws, climbs, and so forth. (3)
He feels or emotes-loves, hates, fears, becomes guilty, feels depressed.
( 4) He reasons or thinks-remembers, imagines, hypothesizes, concludes,
solves problems.
Ordinarily, none of these four basic processes is experienced in isolation
by the human adult. Take, first of all, perceiving. If a man perceives or
senses something (for example, sees an apple), he also tends, at the very
same time, to think about it (figure out whether it is suitable food); to have
some feelings about it (to desire or not to desire it); and to do something
about it ( to pick it up or throw it away).

17

By the same token, if an individual moves or acts (say, he picks up a


stick), he also tends to perceive what he is doing (for example, to see and
touch the stick) ; to think about his act (imagine what he might do with this
particular kind of stick); and to have some emotion about it (to like it or
dislike it) .
Again: if anyone thinks about something (for example, about a crossword
puzzle), he will simultaneously tend to perceive (see) it; to have feelings
about it (react favorably or unfavorably to it); and to move in connection
with it (use a pencil to write on it or put aside the page on which it is
printed).
Finally: if one emotes about something or some person (say, hates another individual), he will also tend to perceive (see, hear, touch) this person; think about him (remember him, figure out how to avoid him); and
take some kind of action in regard to him (run from him or punch him in
the jaw).
We function, then, as a single organism-perceiving, moving, thinking,
and emoting simultaneously and interrelatedly. These four basic life processes are not distinctly different ones, each of which begins where the
others leave off. Instead, they all significantly overlap and are in some respects aspects of the same thing.
Thus, thinking, aside from consisting of bioelectric changes (which are,
of course, motor processes) in the brain, and in addition to consisting of
remembering, learning, comparing, and problem-solving, also is-and to
some extent has to be-sensory, motor, and emotional behavior.
Instead, therefore, of saying, as we usually vaguely say, "Jones thinks
about this puzzle," we could more accurately note that "Jones perceivesmoves-feels-and-THINKS about this puzzle. Because, however, Jones's

18 A Guide To Rational Living


motives in regard to the puzzle may be largely focused upon solving it, and
only incidentally on seeing, manipulating, and emoting about it, we may
justifiably state that he thinks about the puzzle without our specifically
mentioning that he also perceives, moves, and feels in relation to it. But we
should never forget that Jones (like everyone else) is not really able, except for a split-second or two, just to think about the puzzle.
.
Question: Since thinking is only one of the four basic human processes,
and really never can be totally separated from perceiving, moving, and
feeling, why is it given top billing in the system of rational psychotherapy?
Answer: For reasons which will shortly, we hope, be made clear. But let
us first point out that it is emoting-or, rather, the controlling of our emotions-rather than thinking or problem-solving that seems to be the main
problem of human living today. This was not always so. Man, in competition with other animals, once had the problem of seeing, moving, and thinking better than they did, in order to ensure his own survival. Today, after
inventing eyeglasses, radar, aircraft, electronic calculators, and other perceiving-moving-thinking aids, he rules supreme on this earth and is literally
seeking other worlds to conquer.
Only in the emotional area has man as yet made remarkably few advances. In spite of amazing progress in other areas, he still is not appreciably
more emotionally mature, stable, and happy than he was in past centuries.
Indeed, he is in some ways more childish, emotionally uncontrolled, and
mentally ill than ever.
Some progress has of course been made in the emotional area. In the
field of psychological diagnosis and psychotherapy, sparked largely by the
brilliant insights of Sigmund Freud and his followers, considerable understanding of emotional disturbance and its treatment has already been
achieved. In the biochemical realm, the use of drugs, shock treatment,
brain surgery, and other twentieth century techniques are every day adding
to our knowledge of why human beings become psychologically distraught
and what can be done to help them regain their emotional equilibrium.
Nonetheless, perhaps the outstanding problem of our day is that of controlling or changing human emotion and thereby alleviating almost universal neurosis and psychosis. Which leads us to ask: What is the emotional
process, and how can we go about making it better serve human ends?

What
Your Feelings
Really Are

WHAT TIlE DEVIL is

emotion?
Hundreds of profound books and articles have tried to answer this
question-none of them, as yet, with absolute certainty. Let us now, with
something short of a perfect answer as our goal, see if we can shed a little
light on this difficult subject.
Emotion, we have already indicated, is a complicated life process that
is inseparably connected with perceiving, moving, and thinking. It is
not one thing but a combination of several seemingly diverse, yet actually
closely related, phenomena. The famous neurologist, Stanley Cobb, has
given this somewhat technical description of this elusive state of feeling:
"My suggestion is that we use the term 'emotion' to mean the same thing
as (1) an introspectively given affective state, usually mediated by acts of
interpretation; (2) the whole set of internal physiological changes, which
help (ideally) the return to normal equilibrium between the organism and
its environment, and (3) the various patterns of overt behavior, stimulated
by the environment and implying constant interaction with it, which are
expressive of the stirred-up physiological state (2) and also the more or
less agitated psychological state (1). An emotion is not a private mental
state, nor a set of static qualities abstracted from such a state, nor a hypothalamic response with intense autonomic discharge, nor a pattern of behavior viewed in purely objective terms, nor a particular stimulus-situation, even though it has some emotogenic meaning for distinguishable.
things, nor is it the entire set of them viewed as constituting a merely addi19

20

A Guide To Rational Living

tive whole. An emotion is rather an acute disturbance, involving marked


somatic changes, which is experienced as a more or less agitated feeling.
There are associated inferences, of varying degrees of explicitness, as to the
meaning of what is happening. Both the feeling and the behavior which
expresses it, as well as the internal physiological responses to the stimulussituation, constitute a dynamically interrelated whole, which is the emotion.
Thus, an emotion is at once physiological, psychological, and' social since
other persons are usually the most highly emotogenic stimuli in our civilized
environment."
Question: Is Dr. Cobb's definition of emotion final and fully acceptable
to all modern psychologists and neuropsychiatrists?
Answer: No, it is not. As English and English point out in their recent

Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychological and Psychoanalytic Terms,


it is virtually impossible as yet to define emotion without referring to several
conflicting theories.

There is, however, considerable agreement today that there is no single


cause or result of what we call emotion. At minimum, emotions arise through
a three-way process: First, through some kind of physical stimulation of the
special emotional center of the brain (called the hypothalamus) and the
nerve network of the body ( called the autonomic nervous system). Second,
through the perceiving and the moving (technically called the sensorimotor) processes. And third, through desiring and thinking (technically,
conation and cognition).
Normally, the emotional centers of the human organism (the hypothalamus and the autonomic nervous system) as well as the perceiving, moving
and thinking centers of the organism, especially the cerebral centers of the
brain and the millions of fibers of the central nervous system which go to the
arms, legs, skin, and other end-organs of the body, are in a certain moderate
state of excitability and receptivity at any given time. Then a stimulus of a
certain intensity impinges upon the emotional centers and excites or damps
them. This stimulus can be (in rather unusual cases) directly applied to
the emotional centers-for example, by electrically stimulating parts of the
brain or by giving the individual exciting or depressing drugs which quickly
act on parts of his brain or autonomic nervous system. Or the stimulus (more
usually) can be indirectly applied, through the individual's perceiving,
moving, and thinking, and through his thereby affecting central-nervoussystem and brain pathways which, in turn, are connected with and influence
the emotional (hypothalamic and autonomic) centers.
If you wish to control your feelings, then, you may do so in three major
ways. Suppose, for example, you are highly excitable and wish to calm
down. You can directly influence your emotions by electrical or biochemical
means-such as by getting shock treatment or by taking barbiturates or
WHAT YOUR FEELINGS REALLY ARE

tranquilizing drugs. Or, secondly, you can work through your perceivingmoving (sensori-motor) system-for example, by doing relaxation exercises, by dancing, or by Yoga breathing techniques. Or, thirdly, you can
counteract your excitability by using your willing-thinking processesthat is, by reflecting, thinking, or telling yourself to calm down.
Which combination of these three means of controlling your emotional
state will be most effective in any given instance will depend largely on
how intense your emotion is to begin with and in what direction and how
extensively you wish to change or control it.
Question: If three effective methods of controlling one's emotions are
available, why is only one of these methods emphasized in rational psychotherapy and in your present discussion?
Answer: For several important reasons. For one thing, we are not specialists
in medicine or biophysics and therefore do not feel that advocating
pharmacological or bioelectrical methods of emotional control is our cup of
tea. Nor are we adequately versed in physiology, relaxation or movement
techniques, Yoga methods, or other pathways to sensori-motor control over
one's emotional responses. We therefore are more than willing to leave investigations and remedial work in these areas to others more versed in these
fields.
We believe that it is highly probable, moreover, that biophysical and
sensori-motor techniques for affecting human emotions are, unless combined with thinking-desiring methods, of limited usefulness and effectiveness. Thus, a person may be brought out of a depression by the use of drugs

21

or relaxation techniques. But unless this individual begins to think more


clearly and acquire more self-confidence, he will usually tend to become depressed again when the drugs are withdrawn or the movement exercises are
halted. For permanent and deep-seated emotional changes to be effected,
thinking changes, or drastic modifications of the individual's philosophy of
life, appear to us to be necessary in most instances.
Finally, we are particularly interested in what the emotionally disturbed
individual can do to help himself, rather than what others (such as biochemists, physicians, or physiotherapists) can do to help him. In many
instances, it is most important that he seek outside physical help to control
his emotional outbursts or severe inhibitions. But the less dependent he is
on drugs or physical apparatuses, the better. And our rational methods of
inducing him to think for and help himself are ideally suited, we believe,
for his own independent application. Once he learns these techniques and
persistently practices them for awhile he should have little or no further
need of our, or anyone else's, outside assistance.
We are not, then, opposed to controlling self-defeating emotions by
drugs, relaxation techniques (such as those of Jacobsen, or Schultz and

22 A Guide To Rational Living


Luthe), dance therapy, Yoga exercises, or other physical approaches. We
believe that under some circumstances these techniques may be effective
in controlling or modifying runaway or over-inhibited feelings. Although
we are not enthusiasts for more drastic physical treatment, such as electroshock treatment and brain surgery, we can admit the legitimacy of its
cautious and occasional usage.
The main theme of this volume and of the principles of rational therapy,
however, is that for the most thoroughgoing and permanent changes (rather
than mere suppression, diversion, or repression) of disturbed feeling
to occur, the use of reason and logic is a virtual necessity. This is because
a huge element (though not the whole) of emoting essentially is, or is at
least directly influenced by, thought.
Question: Granted that bioelectrical, pharmacological, and sensorimotor approaches to emotional change may be limited; but is not the rational
approach to conscious thought equally superficial? Have not the
psychoanalysts and other investigators long ago established the fact that
much of human behavior, and especially of emotional behavior, is unconsciously motivated and controlled? How can an individual, if this is true,
learn to control and change the thoughts that create his feelings when he
is not necessarily aware of these thoughts because they lie buried deeply
in his unconscious mind?
Answer: A very good point! And one that cannot be answered in a word.
As we shall keep showing throughout this volume, what the orthodox
Freudians and many other psychoanalysts keep cavalierly referring to as
"deeply unconscious thoughts" are, in the vast majority of instances, what
Freud originally called "preconscious" ideas. That is to say, they are
thoughts and feelings (or what we personally like to call internalized
phrases and sentences) that are not immediately accessible to the individual's awareness, but that he can fairly easily learn to infer and observe,
by working back from the behavior which they induce him to perform.
We firmly believe that the average intelligent individual, even though he
is seriously emotionally disturbed, can learn to perceive the cerebral selfsignalings that invariably lie behind and motivate his emotions and can
succeed in deciphering the "unconscious" messages which he is continually
transmitting to himself. Once he clearly sees, understands, and begins to
challenge and question the declarative and exclamatory sentences which
create his feelings, his "unconscious" thoughts will become quite accessible
to consciousness, and his power of emotional self-control will be enormously
enhanced.
Enough of our own vague promises! Let us more specifically note that a
large part of what we call emotion is nothing more nor less than a certain
kind-a biased, prejudiced, or strongly evaluated kind-of thinking. What
WHAT YOUR FEELINGS REALLY ARE

23

we usually label as thinking is a relatively calm and dispassionate appraisal


of a given situation, an objective comparison of many of the elements
in this situation, and a coming to some conclusion as a result of this comparing
or discriminating process.
Thus, a thinking person may observe a piece of bread, see that one part
of it is mouldy, remember that eating this part previously made him ill,
and therefore cut off the mouldy part and eat the non-mouldy section of
the bread. An emoting individual, on the other hand, will tend to observe
the same piece of bread and remember so violently or prejudicially his previous experience with the mouldy part that he may quickly throwaway the
whole piece of bread and go hungry.
The emotional person, in this instance, is doing as much thinking as is
the non-emotional individual but he is doing a different kind of thinking-

thinking which is so prejudiced or circumscribed by an unpleasant prior


experience that it is now limited, biased, overgeneralized, and ineffective.
Because the thinking person is relatively calm, he uses the maximum information available to him-that is, the information that mouldy bread
is unpleasant to eat but that non-mouldy bread is good. Because the emotional person is relatively excited, he uses only part of the information
available-that is, that the mouldy bread is unpleasant.
What we call the thinking individual is a person who is less strongly
biased by his previous experience than he whom we label "emotional." In
consequence, he is in a better position to employ all the information he may
gather about a current life situation and its possible connections with his
past. Although he seriously considers his prior experiences, he is less overwhelmed by them. Consequently, he is much more flexible and liable about
making his current discriminations and decisions.
Question: Hadn't you better watch your step? After first making a fourway division of human behavior into the acts of perceiving, moving, thinking, and feeling, you are now talking about a "thinking" and an "emotional"
individual as if you had never made your previous distinctions.
Answer: Right you are! There are, of course, no exclusively thinking or
exclusively emotional persons, since we still insist that everyone, almost
Simultaneously, perceives, moves, thinks, and feels. However, to use our
previous terminology, some people perceive, move, THINK, and feel;
while others perceive, move, think, and FEEL. The latter, as we just noted
above, do a kind of thinking different from the former, and hence predominantly feel; while the other with their calmer and less prejudiced type of
cogitation, may be said to be those who predominantly think. All people,
however, are thinkers and emoters-even if, when making use of conventional language, (though we are often sorely tempted to coin our own) we
arbitrarily, to some extent, have to divide the two.

24

A Guide To Rational Living

Perhaps it will make things a bit clearer (and this is admittedly murky
territory in which we are treading) if we note that much of what we call
emotion would really seem to be a certain kind of thinking or discriminating
-a kind that is strongly slanted or biased by previous perceptions or experiences; that is often accompanied by sharp bodily responses, such as feelings
of pleasure or nausea; and that is likely to encourage the emoting person
to take some kind of positive or negative action-to go comfortably toward
or run wildly away from the stimulus that seems to be (but by no means
always is) causing the thinking and its emotional concomitants.
In other words: emotion in some major respects seems to be a kind of
semi-logical, fixated, prejudiced, or bigoted thought; while thinking seems
to be a relatively calm, unbiased, reflective kind of discrimination. Thus,
if we calmly compare one apple with another, we may thoughtfully conclude that it is fuller, less blemished, and redder, and that therefore it is
more likely to be a good apple. But if we have had very pleasant prior experiences with blemished apples (if we, for instance, successfully bobbed
for one at a Halloween party and were enabled, as a prize, to kiss the
prettiest girl present) or if we have had most unpleasant prior experiences
with unblemished apples (if we ate too many one day and became ill), we
may excitedly, rashly, and prejudicially-that is, emotionally-conclude
that the blemished apple is the better one and may start eating it.
It would appear, then, that thinking and emoting are closely interrelated
and at times differ mainly in that thinking is a more tranquil, less activitydirected mode of discrimination; while emoting is a less tranquil, more
somatically involved, and more activity-directed mode of behavior. It
would also appear that among adult humans reared in a social culture which
includes a well-formulated language, thinking and emoting usually accompany each other, act in a circular cause-and-effect relationship, and in
certain (though hardly all) respects are essentially the same thing so that
one's thinking becomes one's emotion and emoting becomes one's thought.
By the same token-in accordance with the interrelationship between all
four major human behavior processes, as we outlined-one's thinking and
emoting also become one's (sensori-motor) action and one's action becomes
one's thinking and emoting. For example, by thinking about and enjoying
the thought of swimming, one pushes oneself into the water and eventually
learns to swim; and the more one swims, the more one often (though not
always) comes to think about and enjoy the thought and practice of it.
Question: Are you really saying that all emotion is a kind of thought? Do
you seriously believe that emotion can under no circumstance exist without
thinking?
Answer: No, we do not believe or say that. It is possible (although in the
case of the adult human being not absolutely certain) that emotion can
WHAT YOUR FEELINGS REALLY ARE

briefly exist without thought. An individual, for instance, steps on your toe
and you spontaneously, immediately become angry. Or you hear a piece of
music and you instantly begin to feel warm and excited. Or you learn that a
close friend has died and you begin to feel sad. Under these circumstances,
you may feel emotional without doing any associated thinking.
Perhaps, however, even in these cases, in which emotion appears to rise
instantaneously and unpremeditatedly, you do, with split-second rapidity,
start thinking to yourself: "This person who stepped on my toe is a blackguard!" or "This music is wonderful!" or "Oh, how awful it is that my friend
died!" Perhaps only after you have had these rapid-fire and "unconscious"
thoughts you then begin to become emotional.
In any event, assuming that you don't, at the very beginning, have any
conscious or unconscious thought accompanying your emotion, it appears
to be virtually impossible to sustain an emotional outburst without bolstering it by repeated ideas. For unless you keep telling yourself something on

25

the order of "This person who stepped on my toe is a blackguard!" or "How


could he do a horrible thing like that to me!" the pain of having your toe
stepped on will soon die and your immediate reaction will die with the pain.
Of course, you may keep getting your toe stepped on and the continuing
pain may sustain your anger. But assuming that your physical sensation
stops, your emotional response, in order to last, has to be bolstered by some
kind of thinking. Otherwise, by what magical process could it endure?
Similarly with pleasant feelings. By continuing to listen to certain musical
compositions and having the sensations (aural and kinesthetic) obtained
thereby, your emotion of warmth and excitement may be sustained. But
even under these circumstances you will have difficulty in perpetuating
your feelings of pleasure unless you keep telling yourself something like:
"This music is fine!"; "Oh, how I love those harmonies!"; "What a wonderful
composer the writer of this piece was!"; and so on.
In the case of the death of one of your close friends or relatives, you
normally will find it easy to become depressed, since you have lost a relationship with someone who is truly dear to you. But even in this instance
you will find it difficult to sustain your emotion of depression for any period
of time unless you keep reminding yourself: "Oh, how terrible it is that he
has died!" or "How could he have died so young?" or something of that sort.
Even then, when thinking does not immediately precede or accompany
feeling (which would apparently be rarely if ever), it would seem that
sustained emotion normally is associated with thinking and that it is positively or negatively evaluative thinking, and in fact, serves as the sustaining force behind the feeling. We say "normally" because it is theoretically
possible for emotional circuits, once they have been made to reverberate by

26 A Guide To Rational Living


some physical or psychological stimulus, to keep reverberating under their
own power.
It is also possible for drugs or electrical impulses to keep acting directly
on emotion-carrying nervous circuits (such as the cells of the hypothalamus and autonomic nervous system) and thereby to keep one emotionally
aroused once arousal has started. Usually, however, these types of continued direct stimulation of the emotion-producing centers do not occur.
They seem to be limited largely to pathological conditions.
Question: Granting that thinking processes usually precede, follow, and
sustain human feeling, need it still be true that these thinking processes
literally consist of words, phrases, and sentences that people "say to themselves?" Does all thinking consist of self-verbalizations?
Answer: Perhaps not and we certainly do not want to take an absolutist
position. We much prefer to state that by the time a person who is not suffering from some severe psychotic disturbance (such as deep-seated schizophrenia) reaches adulthood, he has normally been conditioned to do almost all, if not absolutely all, his thinking, and consequently his emoting,
in terms of self-talk or internalized phrases and sentences.
Man is a uniquely language-creating animal and he begins to learn from
very early childhood to formulate his thoughts, perceptions, and feelings
in words, phrases, and sentences. Unless, as we have noted, some very
serious disease process intervenes, the human tendency to think in words,
rather than in pictures, sounds, touch units, or other possible methods of
internal representations, is nearly complete by adolescence or adulthood.
If this is so (and we know of no evidence to the contrary), then for all practical purposes the phrases and sentences that we keep telling ourselves
usually are or become our thoughts and emotions.
To illustrate this human propensity, let us take the example of a man who
has been interviewed for a job. Before the interview, he will often start
talking to himself along the following lines:
"I wonder if I'll get this job ... I wish I didn't have to face the interview
I'm about to take, because it's not very enjoyable and 1 may be refused ...
But if I don't face the interview, I certainly won't get the job .... Besides,
what difference does it make if 1 am refused? 1 really have nothing to lose
thereby ... While if I don't get the job, 1 may have a lot to lose ... The only
thing to do, then, is to take the interview, get it over with and see whether
or not I get the job."
By telling himself these kinds of sentences, this man is thinking. For all
practical purposes, his sentences are his thinking.
If, however, this same individual becomes highly emotional, he may say
certain different sentences:
"Suppose I go for this interview, make a fool of myself, and don't get the
WHAT YOUR FEELINGS REALLY ARE

job ... That would be awful! ... Or suppose I go for the interview, get the
job, and then prove to be incompetent ... That would be frightful!"
Or this same individual may say still different sentences to himself:
"Suppose I go for the interview, make a favorable impression, and get the
job ... That would be wonderful! .........My wife and friends would look up to
me and think I had done very well ........And that would be fine!"
By telling himself these kinds of sentences, and including the negative
evaluation "That would be awful!" or the positive evaluation, "That would
be wonderful!", this individual changes his calm thinking into excited emoting. And, for all practical purposes, his evaluative internalized sentences
are his emotion.
It would appear, then, that positive human emotions, such as feelings of
love or elation, are often associated with or result from internalized sentences stated in some form or variation of the phrase "This is good!" and
that negative human emotions, such as feelings of anger or depression, are

27

frequently associated with or result from sentences which are stated in some
form or variation of the phrase "This is bad." Without an adult human being's employing-on some conscious or unconscious level-such sentences
as these, much of his emoting would simply not exist.
Question: If what you say is true, how is it that so few men and women,
including few members of your own psychological profession, clearly see
that thinking and emoting are basically the same kind of thing and that
they stem from internalized words, phrases, and sentences? Is this because
of their ignorance?
Answer: In part, yes. Many people, including psychologists and psychiatrists, just don't bother to look very closely at so-called emotions and
therefore remain ignorant of their ideological basis. Others look closely
enough, but only in the light of some preconceived dogma, such as classical
psychoanalytic dogma. We have found that some persons trained to think
of human behavior in rigid Freudian terms will no more consider the possibility that emotion may be understood and radically changed by observing and changing the sentences that create it than will some religious fundamentalists consider anything other than their interpretation of certain
Biblical passages.
But that is exactly what we, non-Freudians and non-fundamentalists, insist: that if human emotions are usually, as we contend they are, in large
part the result of thinking, one may appreciably control or revamp one's
emotions by controlling or revamping one's thoughts. Or, more concretely
stated: if one wishes to control one's emotions, one may appreciably do
so by changing the internalized sentences, or self-talk, with which one
created them in the first place.
This, again, is the main message of this book: that human thinking and

28 A Guide To Rational Living


the emotions usually associated with this thinking can be controlled or
changed by parsing the thoughts and emotions into the essential sentences
of which they consist and then changing these sentences. We hold, more
specifically, that sustained negative emotions-such as depression, anxiety,
anger, and guilt-are almost always unnecessary and that they can be
largely eradicated if people will learn to think consistently straight and to
follow up their straight thinking with effective action.
Question: Can all negative emotions be extirpated by controlling one's
thinking?
Answer: Hardly. Many emotional outbursts, such as fits of anger or fear,
seem to be spontaneous and almost instantaneous results of perceiving and
moving (sensori-motor) processes which are either of innate origin or result from early acquired visceral conditioning. Thus, if you make a loud
noise behind someone's back or aim a swiftly moving vehicle at him, he will
normally tend to experience fear, while if you keep cooking fine meals for
someone or satisfying him sexually, he will normally tend to experience
liking or love.
These kinds of emotions, based on distinct threats to an individual's security or on the satisfaction of his sensory pleasures, tend to be biologically
rooted and probably have their source in primitive pleasure-pain processes.
It is difficult to see how people could survive for long without some emotional leanings of this nature.
Many emotions, moreover, even though they are hardly necessary for
human survival, appear to add appreciably to human well-being and in this
sense are almost indispensable to a happy existence. One's joy or elation at
hearing a beautiful piece of music, watching a lovely sunset, or successfully
finishing a difficult task is not exactly life-preserving. But an existence bereft
of feelings like these would indeed be drab and non-rewarding.
Anyone, therefore, who would attempt to control human emotions out of
existence would be tackling a goal of dubious value. To succeed at such a
task would be to dehumanize men and women and make their lives meaningless.
The ancient and medieval philosophers who apotheosized man's achieving a state of pure "soul" or pure intellect, devoid of all the "crass" emotions,
were actually asking for a super-robot or automaton which, like some of
our modem electronic computers, would be quite effective in solving certain problems but which would not be capable of any pleasure or satisfaction. What would the point of such a super-''human'' being be?
Question: Then ridding the world of emotion, or substituting intellect
for feeling, is definitely not your main goal-is that correct?
Answer: Quite correct. If anything, one of our main goals is to help many
inhibited and apathetic individuals to achieve more honest-to-goodness
WHAT YOUR FEELINGS REALLY ARE

feeling, higher pitches of emotion. We are all in favor of human emotional


experience. All that we oppose is negative, self-defeating, highly exaggerated emotionalizing. And in the remainder of this book we shall try to present some specific techniques for dealing with and controlling this selfsabotaging brand of over or under-emotionalizing.

29

;,

Thinking Yourself
Out of
Emotional Disturbances

MOST PSYCHOTHERAPY PATIENTS are difficult customers, but this one


was abusing the privilege. No matter how often I (A.E.) would try to show her
that she had control over her own destiny, if only she believed that she had,
she kept parrying my arguments with all kinds of excuses and evasions.
"I know you're right," she said, "about those other patients of yours who
are able to control their feelings but I just can't seem to do it. Maybe I'm
different. Maybe they've got something that I'm missing."
"Yes, maybe they have got something that you haven't," I agreed. "Recently acquired corks to plug the holes in their head. And I've shown them
where to get the corks. Now how come I'm having so much trouble showing you?"
"Yes, how come you haven't shown me? God knows, I've tried to see what
you keep telling me."
"You mean God knows you keep thinking you're trying to see. But maybe that's just the trouble-you've convinced yourself that you're really
trying to see how you're bothering yourself with the nonsense you keep
drumming into yourself all the time; and having convinced yourself that
you're trying, you actually find no need for trying any longer. So you
quickly give up and don't actually try to see anything. Now, if I could only
get you to work at observing and changing your own self-defeating internal
sentences, you'd be surprised how quickly and drastically your enormous
feelings of anger against your mother and your brother would go away."
"But how can I work at a thing like that?-it's so indefinite."
30
THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES

It only seems indefinite-because you make little actual effort to grasp


it: to see what your own sentences are and to examine the philosophic
premises behind them. Actually, it's no different from working at playing
the piano or playing tennis-which you once told me you do very well."
"Oh, but that's different. Playing tennis is something physical. It's not at
all like thinking or getting angry or anything like that."
"Ah, now I think I've got you!" I exclaimed.
"What do you mean?" she asked. And it was almost laughable (had it not
been so tragic) how fearfully startled she was at the thought that I might
now have her, and that she consequently might have to surrender her
neurosis.
You say that playing tennis is something physical. And on the surface,
of course, it is. You make muscle movements with your eyes and your arms

31

and your hands, and somehow the ball keeps going over the net. And, looking at your muscles moving and the ball flying, you think of the whole
process as physical, almost mechanical."
"But isn't it?"
"No, it definitely isn't. Suppose your opponent hits the ball to you. Your
object is to hit it back over the net, preferably in a place where he or she
will not be able easily to reach and return it. So you run after the ball (using
your legs), reach out for it (using your arms), swing at it (using your arms
and wrist), and so on. But what makes you run this way or that way, stretch
out or pull back your arms, turn your wrist to the left or right?"
What makes me-? Well, I guess my eyes do. I see that the ball is over
here or over there, and I see where I want to place it, and I move accordingly."
"Fine. But do you see by magic? And do you somehow mysteriously,
magically get your sight to direct your legs this way, your arms that way,
your wrist still another way?"
"No, it's not any magic. It's-. It's-." My patient was frankly troubled.
"Could it," I asked, "could it possibly be thinking? Could it be that you
see, as you say, your opponent's ball going over here or over there, and you
think it would be wise to return it over on this or that corner of the court,
and you think, again, that you can reach the ball by stretching out your
arm a little more in this direction, and your wrist in this other direction, and
so on and so forth?"
"You mean, I really am not as mechanical and physical, all along, in my
actions as I think I am, but I am really directing these actions by my thinking? You mean I am continually telling myself, while playing the game, to
do this and that, and to stretch my arm out here or turn my wrist over this
way, and so forth? Is that what you mean?"
Well, isn't that what you are really doing while you are playing this so

32 A Guide To Rational Living


called physical game of tennis? Aren't you, during every single minute of
the play, continually directing your arm to do this and your wrist to do that?
And aren't you doing this directing by real, hard, concerted thinking?"
"Come to think of it-and I must admit I never have thought of it that
way before--I guess I really am. I'll be darned! The whole thing-why, the
whole thing's really mental, isn't it?"
.
"Yes, isn't it? Even this highly 'physical' game is really largely mental. And
you keep working, working at this game-and not only working by running,
stretching, turning your wrist, and so on, but working at thinking about
what to do during the game. And it's this latter work, the work at thinking,
that really makes you a better tennis player, eventually, than you originally
were. The main practice, in fact, that you do at playing tennis, is thinking
practice. Isn't it?"
'When you put it that way, I guess it is. Funny! And I thought it was
physical and little else. I guess I'm beginning to see now what you mean
by working at changing my sentences and changing my emotions. Just as
in tennis, I work at changing my stance and my stroke and other things.
And, as you say, it's really working at thinking, and not just at mechanical
changes."
"Exactly. Now if I can get you to accept the same concept that you use at
tennis (even though you've been unaware for years just what you've been
doing to improve your game) and to apply this to changing your sentences,
and particularly those behind your disordered emotions, your game of life
will begin to improve almost as quickly and as well as your game of tennis
has in the past."
With this kind of an ideological breakthrough effected, it was not so difficult, thereafter, to induce this previously defensive and stubborn patient
to work at her emotional disturbances. Nor is it too difficult to get almost
any patient to work in a similar manner-once the basic idea of working at
changing one's own sentences is got over to him or her.
Back, now, to our main theme. Granted that human emotions are both
necessary and desirable (as we have willingly admitted at the end of the
last chapter), the important question remains: Are sustained negative emotions, such as enduring fear or hostility, necessary?
The answer to this question is: In large part, no. Sustained negative feelings, other than those caused by continuous physical pain or discomfort,
are usually the result of ignorance or disturbance and for the most part may
be eliminated by knowledge and straight-thinking.
How do we reach this conclusion? Simply by extending some of the concepts of thinking and emoting which we have been presenting in the first
chapters of this book. For if sustained feelings usually are the result of an
individual's conscious or unconscious thinking, (that is, his internalized
THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCES

sentences), then it would appear that it is rarely the things that occur to us
from the outside that make us sad or glad. It is, rather, our perceptions, attitudes, or self-verbalizations about these outside events.
This principle, which we have recently rediscovered from the materials
of many psychotherapeutic sessions with scores of clients, was originally
realized by several ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, and perhaps
best stated by the famous stoic, Epictetus, who in the first century A.D.
wrote in The Enchiridion: "Men are disturbed not by things, but by the
views which they take of them." William Shakespeare, many centuries
later, rephrases this thought in Hamlet: "There's nothing either good or
bad but thinking makes it so."
As a case in point, let us turn for a moment to Geraldine, one of my
highly intelligent and efficient thirty-three-year-old female patient who
had come to see me (R.A.H.) about six months after she had obtained a

33

divorce. Although she had been decidedly unhappy in her marriage to an


irresponsible and dependent husband, she had been no happier since her
divorce. Her husband had drunk to excess, run around with other women,
and had been unable to hold a job. But when she came to see me, she was
beginning to think she had made a mistake in divorcing him. I said:
'Why do you think it was a mistake to divorce your husband?"
"Because I think divorce is wrong," she replied. "I think when people get
married, they should stay married."
"Yet you do not belong to a religious group that takes that position. You
do not believe that marriages are somehow made and sealed in heaven,
do you?"
"No, I don't even believe in a heaven. 1 just feel it is wrong to get divorced
and I blame myself for having gotten one. I have been even more miserable since I got it than 1 was when living with my husband."
"But look," I asked, "Where do you think your feelings about divorce being wrong originated? Do you think you were born with them? Do you
think that human beings have built-in feelings, like built-in taste buds, that
tell them how to distinguish right from wrong? Your taste buds tell you
what is salty, sweet, or bitter. And are your feelings supposed to tell you
what is right, wrong, or indifferent?"
The young divorcee laughed. "You make it sound pretty silly. No, I don't
suppose I was born with feelings about what is right or wrong. I had to
learn to feel as I do."
Seeing a good opening, I rushed in where less directive and less rational
therapists often fear to tread. "Exactly," I said. "You had to learn to feel as
you do. And what is learned can be unlearned or modified. So, even though
you are not of a fundamentalist faith that holds that divorce is immoral, this
idea is widespread in our society and you could easily have picked it up-

34 A Guide To Rational Living


probably in your early childhood from your parents, school teachers, or
playmates. And the idea that you picked up, simply stated, is this:
" 'Only bad people get divorces. I got a divorce. So I must be a bad person. Yes, it must be true. I am a bad person. Oh, what a no-good, awful, terrible person I have been!' "
"Sounds dreadfully familiar;" she rather bitterly laughed.
"I'm sure it does," I resumed. "Some such sentences as these must have
started going through your mind-otherwise you could not possibly be as
disturbed as you are. Over and over again, you must have kept repeating
this stuff. And then you have probably gone on to say to yourself:
"Because I am such a terrible person who did this horrible thing of getting a divorce, I deserve to be blamed and punished for my dreadful act. I
deserve to be wretched and miserable and desperately unhappy. And that's
just what I am-I am even more unhappy than when I was married to that
lousy husband of mine.'''
"Right again!" she ruefully smiled.
"So of course," I continued, "you have been unhappy. Anyone who spends
a good portion of her waking hours thinking what a terrible person she is
and how unhappy she is and how much she deserves to be unhappy because
of what a terrible person she is (notice, if you will, the circular thinking involved in all this )-any such person will be bound to feel miserable. If I,
for example, started telling myself right this minute (and went on doing so
for most of the rest of the day, and the next, and the next) that I was no
good, a low-lifed heel, a stinker because I never learned to play the violin
or to ice-skate or to do some of the other countless things I could have
learned to do-if I kept telling myself this kind of bosh, I could quickly
make myself feel depressed.
"Then I could also tell myself, in this kind of sequence, how much I deserved to feel unhappy because, after all, I had my chance to learn to
play the violin and to ice-skate and I had messed these chances up nicely.
And what a real worthless skunk, under these circumstances, I am. Oh, my
god, what a real skunkl"
My patient, by this time, was almost in stitches, as I satirically kept emphasizing my doom. "Again," I said, "I make it sound silly. But with a purpose-to show you that you are being just as silly when you start giving
yourself the business about your divorce."
"I am beginning to understand what you mean," she said. "I do say this
kind of thing to myself. But how can 1 stop? There is, after all, quite a difference between divorce, on the one hand, and violin-playing or ice-skating on the other hand."
"Granted. But has your getting a divorce really been any more horrible.
terrible, and catastrophic than my not learning to play the fiddle?"
THINKING YOURSELF OUT OF EMOTIONAL DISTURBANCFS

Well, you'll have to admit that I made a serious mistake when I married
such an irresponsible person as my husband. And maybe if I had behaved
more maturely and wisely myself, I could have helped him to grow up."
O.K. agreed. You did make a mistake to marry him in the first place.
And, quite probably, you did so because you yourself were not sufficiently
mature at the time of your marriage. All right, so you made a mistake, a
neurotic mistake. But does this mean that you should be punished the rest
of your life by having to live forever with your mistake?"
"No, I guess not. But how about a wife's responsibility to her husband?
Don't you think that I should have stayed with him and tried to help him
get over his severe problems?"
"A very lovely, and sometimes even practical, thought. But didn't you
tell me previously that you did try to help him and he refused even to
acknowledge that he was slightly disturbed himself? And didn't you say
that he strongly opposed your going for any kind of therapy while you were

35

married, let alone his own going for help, too?"


Yes, that's the way it was. The mere mention of the word psychologist
or marriage counselor was enough to send him into a fit of temper. He'd
never think of going or even letting me go for help."
The only thing you could have done, then, would have been to play
psychotherapist to him, and in your state, you'd hardly have been very
effective at that. What are you beating yourself down for? You made a
mistake in marrying; you did your best to do something to rectify it after
marriage; you were blocked, mainly by your husband, but partly by your
own feelings of severe upset, on both counts. So you finally got out of the
marriage, as almost any reasonably sane person would have done. Now
what's your crime? Why do you insist on blaming yourself? You think,
erroneously, that it's the unhappy situation you're now in which is making
you miserable. But is it the situation-or is it what you're telling yourself
about this situation?"
"I'm beginning to see your point. Although my marital situation never
was and still isn't good, you seem to be saying that I don't have to give
myself such a hard time about it. That's quite a point of view you have
therel"
"Yes, I like it myself-and you'd be surprised how often I use it in my
own life. But now if we can only make it your point of view, not even a poor
marriage and an as yet difficult divorce situation will faze you. In fact, if
I can really get you to adopt this viewpoint, I can't imagine anything that
will ever bother you too much."
You really mean that, don't you?"
Mean it, hell-I believe it."
And so, to some extent, did this young divorcee, after another few months

36 A Guide To Rational Living


of rational psychotherapy sessions. Whereas she previously kept telling
herself how far from ideal was her behavior, and what a horror she was for
not always achieving this ideal, she now began to substitute constructive
problem-solving, internalized sentences for her old self-beatings. In one of
her last conferences with me, she said: "You know, I looked into the mirror
yesterday morning and said to myself: 'Geraldine, you are a happy, fairly
bright, increasingly mature, growingly efficient kid. I am getting mighty
fond of you.' And then I laughed with real joy."
What this patient discovered was that her feelings did not derive from
her unsuccessful marriage or her divorce but from her evaluations of these
and other events in her life. When she changed the kinds of thoughts (that
is, her internalized sentences) she had been having about herself and her
life functions, her emotions changed from depression, discouragement, and
unhappiness, to elation, encouragement, and joy.
If human beings theoretically can control their negative thoughts and
feelings, but in actual practice they often refrain from doing so and keep
experiencing unnecessary misery, the question arises: Why? What are the
blockings which prevent them from thinking effectively and emoting on a
more pleasant, or at least a less unpleasant, plane?
The main barriers to effective thinking and emoting are these: (a) Some
people are too stupid to think clearly. Or (b) they are intelligent enough to
think straight, but just do not know how to do so. Or ( c) they are sufficiently
intelligent and well-educated to think clearly but are too disturbed or
neurotic to put their intelligence or knowledge to good use. As we have
noted in two of our previous books, How to Live with a Neurotic (Ellis,
1956) and Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: 36 Systems (Harper, 1959),
neurosis essentially consists of stupid behavior by a non-stupid person.
Otherwise stated: a neurotic is a potentially capable individual who in
some way or on some level of his functioning does not realize that he is or
how he is defeating his own ends. Or else he is an individual who (in rare
cases) has full understanding of or insight into how he is harming himself
but who, for some irrational reason, persists in self-sabotaging behavior.
Since we are assuming that neurotics are potentially capable and not intrinsically stupid, we must also assume that they are emotionally disabled
because either they do not know how to, or do not care to think more
clearly and behave less self-defeatingly.
If so, what can be done? In the next chapter we shall try to be even more
specific about how one can recognize and attack neurotic behavior.

Recognizing
and Attacking
Neurotic Behavior

CLEAR THINKING, WE have

insisted, leads to sane emoting. Stupidity, ignorance, and disturbance block straight thinking and result in serious degrees
of over or under-emotionalizing. When an individual is severely inhibited or
practically foaming at the mouth and when he is obviously not stupid, then
we usually call him neurotic. Let us, for the sake of still further clarity, consider a couple of examples.
A twenty-two year old male says that he does not want to finish his dental
training because he dislikes some of his subjects and has a difficult time
studying them. In consequence, he says, he would just as soon be a business
man.
When his motivations are probed more deeply, it is soon discovered that
he really would very much like to be a dentist but that he is fighting
dentistry because (a) his parents are pressuring him to finish school and he
loathes their pressuring; (b) he is not getting along too well with his classmates and feels that he is quite unpopular with them; and (c) he doubts
that he has the manual dexterity and manipulative ability that is required
of a good dentist.
This individual is sabotaging his own desires because he has not insight
into, or is ignorant of, his basic, unconscious motivations. He starts with the
conscious supposition that he "naturally" dislikes certain of his subjects;
and, as a result of some psychological probing and direct interpretation
(which is one of the main techniques of rational psychotherapy) he is
quickly induced to admit (first to the therapist and, more importantly to
37

38 A Guide To Rational Living


himself) that he actually is terribly afraid of being dominated by his parents, of failing to win the esteem of his classmates, and of ultimately failing to be a good dentist. His "natural" dislike for some of his subjects is
therefore a highly "unnatural" product of, or rationalization for, his underlying philosophy of "Oh, my Lord, what a weak poltroon I am and will always continue to be!"
When, in the course of psychotherapy, this individual becomes aware of
his underlying irrational fears; and when, perhaps more importantly, he is
induced by the therapist to question and challenge these fears-to ask himself "How can my parents actually dominate me, if I refuse to let them do
so?" and "Why would it be so horrible if I failed to be the most popular boy
at school or the best dentist the school ever turned out?" he decides to return to school and to work through his parental, social, and self-confidence
difficulties. This highly intelligent youth thereby stops his irrational (or
stupid) thinking and the over-emotionalized (neurotic) reactions (needless fear and flight) to which his low-level thinking is leading.
A female patient had a similar problem but more insight. This twentyyear-old girl knew that she wanted to be a teacher and also knew that she
was making no effort to become one because she had no confidence in herself. She also suspected that she was trying to punish herself for some
promiscuous sex activity in which she had engaged a year previously. Even
though this girl presumably had insight into her underlying motivations,
she continued to defeat herself and to behave in a neurotic manner.
What this patient did not realize was that her lack of self-confidence and
her extreme sex guilt were based on ignorance and faulty thinking. Her
lack of confidence was originally instilled in her by her hypercritical older
sister, who jealously did not want the girl to think well of herself. Then the
patient, working on the false and unquestioned assumption that she had
little scholastic ability, began to avoid her school work and thereby to
"prove" to herself that she actually had none--thus reinforcing her original
sister-instilled lack of confidence.
This girl's sexual promiscuity, moreover, largely stemmed from this same
lack of confidence. Feeling that she was worthless and that boys would not
care for her, she took the easiest way of winning them by bartering her body
for their attentions. Her guilt about her promiscuity was based on the arbitrary notion, largely taken over again from her older sister, that premarital
relations are wicked and that promiscuity is a particularly heinous offense.
Even though this girl seemed to know why she was sabotaging her desires
to teach, she actually had only partial or lower-order insight into her
neurotic behavior. She did not consistently realize the falseness and irrationality behind her two basic premises: (a) that she was incapable of doing
well scholastically and that all people who do poorly in this area are utterly
RECOGNIZING AND A'ITACKING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR

39

worthless; and (b) that she was wicked for engaging in premarital sex
acts.
A fuller understanding of her self-defeating behavior led to far-reaching
changes in her thoughts and actions. First she was induced to question the
connection between scholastic success and so-called personal "worth" and
to see that she was thoroughly valuable and deserving of happiness whether
or not she was highly successful at school. Seeing and accepting this view
enabled her to work much better in school and to achieve better grades.
Secondly, this patient was helped to challenge the so called wickedness
of premarital sex behavior and to understand that although she may have
made sexual mistakes (by having affairs with males whom she did not really
enjoy as lovers), she was not to blame and need not be punished for these
very human mistakes. By thus surrendering self-blame and punishment, she
took away her remaining motives for sabotaging her own endeavors and
was thereafter able to work quite concertedly toward her goal of becoming
a teacher.

The case of this patient, as perhaps of all individuals who come for
psychotherapeutic help, exemplifies the difference between what we call
Insight No.1 and Insight No.2. Insight No.1 is the fairly conventional kind
of understanding first clearly postulated by Freud (though partly seen
by several psychologists and writers before his day): that is, knowledge by
the individual that he has a problem and that there are certain antecedents
that cause him to have this problem. Thus, the young dentist in training
whose case was noted at the beginning of this chapter knew that he had
a problem with his career, but thought it was because he disliked certain
subjects and not because (as subsequently turned out) he was afraid of
social and vocational failure. Not knowing the antecedents of his problem,
he could not be said to have any reasonable amount of "insight" into it.
The young teacher in training was in a somewhat different position, since
she not only knew that she was failing at her chosen career, but also knew
or suspected that (a) she lacked confidence and (b) she was trying to
punish herself for her previous sexual promiscuity. Knowing, therefore,
some of the motivational antecedents of her ineffective behavior, this
girl had a considerable amount of "insight"-or what we call Insight No. 1.
Even her Insight No.1, however, was rather vague: since she knew that she
lacked confidence but didn't clearly see that this lack of confidence consisted, more concretely, of her telling herself: "My older, hypercritical
sister thinks.that I am inadequate; it would be absolutely terrible if she
were correct and I were inadequate; perhaps she is correct; in fact, I am
sure that she is."
This young woman also knew that she was guilty and self-punitive about
her previous premarital affairs. But she did not specifically see that her

40 A Guide To Rational Living


guilt and self-punishment were the result of the internalized sentences:
"Many people say that premarital sex relations are wicked. I have had these
relations. Therefore I must be wicked." And: "It is often agreed that people
who do mistaken or erroneous acts should be punished for their sins; I have
committed such acts by having premarital sex relations with males for
whom I did not really care; therefore I should punish myself for my sins by
not really trying to succeed in the career, teaching, in which I'would like to
succeed."
Although, then, this patient definitely had a good measure of Insight No.
1, she had it in such a vague and indefinite manner, that we could well
call it only partial rather than full insight. As for Insight No.2, she had
virtually none. For Insight No.2 consists of the wholehearted belief that
"Now that I have discovered what Insight No.1 is, and what the self-causes
of my own disturbances really are, there is no other way of my eliminating
these disturbances than by steadily, persistently, and energetically working
to change these self-causes."
More concretely: after discovering that the real causes of her failing in
school consisted of (a) her telling herself how worthless she was largely
because she accepted her sister's view of her inadequacy and the assumed
horror of one's being inadequate, and also consisted of (b) her telling herself how sinful and deserving of punishment she was for having mistakenly
submitted her body to several men for whom she had very little liking, this
girl, in order to obtain Insight No.2, would also have to see that the only
way out of her dilemma would be to work persistently and energetically
at changing these two false beliefs. This, with the help of some thirty
sessions of highly active-directive rational psychotherapy, she was finally
able to see and to work through.
It is our contention, in other words, that almost all neurotic or selfsabotaging behavior results from some kind of basic ignorance or lack of
insight on the part of the disturbed individual. Although it is theoretically
possible for human beings to become severely aberrated because of certain
biophysical conditions (such as severe hormonal imbalances in their bodies
or by being kept sleepless for many nights on end), neuroses caused by
these kinds of conditions are rare. Under more usual conditions, the individual's aberrated behavior is caused by his own ideas, which may be consciously known to him or which he may stoutly hold without his being
aware that he has them.
Thus, as in the two cases cited in this chapter, the individual may know
that he resists going to school because he is fighting against parental pressure; or he may unconsciously resist going to school without clear awareness that his rebellion against parental pressure is at the bottom of his resistance. Or she may know that she is punishing herself for some sex guilt;

RECOGNIZING AND ATTACKING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR


41

41

or she may punish herself without realizing that she is doing so because of
this kind of guilt.
In any event, whether or not the individual is conscious of the underlying
ideas that are driving him to behave inefficiently and self-defeatingly, these
ideas must be, on theoretical grounds, irrational and illogical-else he is
not neurotic. Thus, in the instances given in this chapter, if it were logical
for the young dental student to be so fearful of parental domination and
social and vocational failure that he gave up studying and flunked out of
school, there would be nothing inappropriate about this behavior and we
would have to conclude that he was a bright boy who saw the facts of life
and acted in sane accordance with them. And if it were rational for the
student of education to accept her sister's view of her worthlessness and to
keep punishing herself for her sexual deeds, we would have to admit that
she was perfectly right about giving up teaching and becoming, say, a
prostitute for the rest of her life.
But pronounced fears of failure, feelings of worthlessness, unthinking acceptance of others' views of us, and self-punitive tendencies are virtually
never, as we shall keep insisting in this book, justified. Not because they
are absolutely wrong or wicked, or because they contradict the laws of god
or the universe, but simply because, on good pragmatic grounds, they are
inevitably self-defeating and needlessly prevent human beings from getting
many of the goods and achieving most of the goals that they desire.
Stated differently: any intense, sustained, and frequently repeated negative emotion-such as a feeling of severe anger, depression, guilt, or anxiety
-tends to be the result of a (consciously or unconsciously held) prejudiced,
childish, senseless idea and almost inevitably leads to woefully inefficient,
self-sabotaging behavior which we call neurosis (or, in its most extreme
forms, psychosis). When an individual keeps seriously over or under-emoting and in consequence displays neurotic behavior, there are several palliative or superficial means he can employ to help himself temporarily overcome his disturbance. Thus, he can change his job or his marital status; take
a vacation; develop a vital interest in some area; become successful at his
professional or avocational pursuits; consume sufficient quantities of alcohol, marijuana, heroin, tranquilizers, psychic energizers, or other drugs; become fanatically devoted to a new church or creed; or try various other
diversionary approaches.
Almost any or all of these kinds of diversions will temporarily work. For
they essentially induce the individual, who is irrationally attached to some
set of neurosis-provoking ideas (which we may call x), and divert him, for
the moment, to some other set of ideas (which we may call y). As long as he
keeps thinking of y instead of x ideas, he may not feel too troubled.
Unfortunately, this kind of diversion is rarely a solution to the neurotic

42 A Guide To Rational Living


person's basic problems. For no matter how vigorously or often he may
divert himself to y ideas, he still underlyingly believes in and has never rid
himself of x ideas; so that he strongly keeps tending to return to the neurotic
behavior caused by x ideas.
Take Mrs. Janus, for example. At the age of thirty-eight, she was still a
beautiful and talented woman; and when she was not lying in bed all day
with a horrible migraine headache (which she frequently was) or fighting
viciously with her husband and two teenage children (which she almost
always was), she was a charming companion, hostess, and clubwoman. So,
to help keep herself calm, unangry, and relatively free from migraine, Mrs.
Janus drank heavily, took loads of Miltown, and became passionately devoted to a New Spiritism group which believed in reincarnation and taught
that life in this sorry vale of tears is only a prelude to an infinity of Real
Lives to come.
It almost worked. Being half crocked most of the time, and intently
proselyting for her spiritist views, Mrs. Janus found relatively little time
to upset herself, become terribly angry at others, and retreat into her migraine headaches. But then when the liquor lost some of its effectiveness, and life in the afterworld was found somewhat wanting in solving
the problems of this world, Mrs. Janus's neurotic symptoms returned full
blast. In fact, she became so unable to contain her anger against her associates that even her newly found spiritist friends began to look askance at her
behavior and to ease her out of some of the high positions that they
were at first delighted to give her. Seeing even this new group desert
her, Mrs. Janus became still angrier and began to verge on a complete
breakdown.
Came the dawn. And, more by brute force than gentle persuasion, Mrs.
Janus was dragged into psychotherapy by her husband who simply told
her that unless she did something to really help herself he and the children
were packing and leaving. It required only a few sessions of intensive
therapy to reveal that what was really bothering Mrs. Janus was her pronounced belief that, because her parents had both been overly strict and
highly punitive when she was a child, the rest of the world owed her a
completely opposite kind of living. All her close associates, she believed,
especially her husband and children, should lean over backward to make
life easy for her-and thereby compensate for the unduly hard life she had
had during her childhood.
When, in the normal course of human events, Mrs. Janus found that her
close relatives and friends somehow did not feel the way she did about
their catering to her, she became inordinately angry at them, fully believed
that they were unethical and unfair, and did her best to get back at them
for their "rank injustices." When everything was going her way-which of
RECOGNIZING AND A'ITACKING NEUROTIC BEHAVIOR
43
course is rare in life--she was fine; but when she was balked or frustrated,
she felt miserable and unconsciously tried to divert herself by making life
for others equally or more miserable.
Alcohol and Miltown often made Mrs. Janus "feel good" for a short while
-at which times all the "injustices" of the world would not seem so unjust.
And her spiritistic views, which promised her the best of all possible worlds
in afterlives to come, also temporarily diverted her from her injustice collecting. But such diversions, naturally, could not last forever and she still
underlyingly believed that the world should be a kinder, easier place and
that her close associates should make up for the horrors of her past life by
catering to her in the present.
In the course of a year and a half of both individual and group rational
psychotherapy, Mrs. Janus was first given insight No.1: namely, that her
extreme hostility and migrainous upsets stemmed from her own behavior,

rather than that of others, and that this behavior largely consisted of the irrational philosophy: "Because I suffered in the past, people should be
utterly kind and ingratiating to me in the present."
After the therapist's helping Mrs. Janus to see the real causes of her neurotic behavior, he then (with the help of the members of her therapy
group) led her to Insight No.2: "Now that I see that I am creating my disturbances with my often repeated internalized sentences about the 'injustice' of it all, I will just have to keep questioning, challenging, and changing these sentences, until I really come to believe that it is not unfair, but
at the most Simply unfortunate, that people do not cater to me; and I will just
have to get myself to believe, instead, that I can get along perfectly well in
life by catering, if I want anything, to myself."
When she began to receive Insight No.2-that she must keep working at
changing her own philosophy and ways-Mrs. Janus reduced her drinking
to a cocktail or two a day, threw away her bottle of Miltown, and became remarkably unangry, with her husband, children, and friends, even when
(being fallible humans) they occasionally did act unjustly or unfairly to
her. The more she accepted reality, and refused any longer to make it as
grim as she had been making it, the less spiritistic she grew and her belief
in reincarnation became a thing of the past. As she said at one of the closing
therapeutic sessions: "Why do I have to worry about any highly hypothetical afterlives when I now know how to make this life so enjoyable?"

Overcoming
the Influences
of the Past

"THIS STUFF ABOUT people

making themselves emotionally sick by their


poor philosophies of life sounds all very well," many of our critics often
say. "But how about the important influences of the past, over which we had
no control whatever? How about, for instance, our childhood-imbibed
Oedipus complexes or the fact that we may have been severely rejected
by our parents? Didn't these things make us disturbed to begin with? And
how are we to overcome them now, if we are merely to be concerned about
changing our present philosophies?"
Good questions, these, but fairly easy to answer in the light of our rational-emotive approach to personality change.
Let us take the Oedipus business first. Let us suppose that the Freudians
are at least partly right and that some individuals, if not all, have severe
Oedipus complexes during their childhood and that they are emotionally
maimed thereby. Can we still, by purely rational assaults on such an individual's current philosophies, overcome the pernicious effects of his early
family romance?
Indeed we can. Let us, before we give any therapeutic details here, first
see what a so called Oedipus complex really is and how it comes about.
A young male child, let us say, lusts after his mother, hates his father, is
guilty about his sex desires for his mother, and is afraid that his father is
going to castrate him. Consequently, he fears older men for the rest of his
life and either cowardly refuses to compete with them (as, say, in business)
or makes enormous efforts to ingratiate himself with them and thereby gain

44
OVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST

their favor (as, say, by becoming a passive homosexual who keeps looking
for older and more active male sex partners and is afraid to have a normal
relationship with a female). Obviously, such an individual has a rather
classical Oedipus complex.
Let us even grant, with the orthodox Freudians, that this individual originally acquired his Oedipal feelings because his sexual instincts (his id)
are biologically rooted and, whether he likes it or not, they inevitably push
him in the direction of lusting after his mother and then, because of his
superego (conscience), force him to become guilty about his incest feelings
and hate both himself and his father. Even if this is so (and often in our
society it seems not to be, since many boys apparently do not lust after their
mothers or get jealous of their fathers' relations with these mothers), the
question still must be asked: Is the boy's Oedipal attachment the same thing
as his Oedipus complex? And the only sane answer seems to be: No, it by

45

no means necessarily is.


Any so called complex is little more than a chain of negative ideas about
what may (or may not) be an unfortunate set of facts. Thus, it may be perfectly true that John is physically weaker than Henry and that, compared
to Henry, he is in this respect inadequate or inferior. But if John has an
inferiority complex we mean (a) that he is (or thinks he is) weaker than
Henry (and many others) and (b) that he believes he is worthless or has a
relatively low value because he is (or thinks he is) weaker. While (a) may
be an objective statement of fact, (b) is a subjective negative evaluation
about the fact; and it is (b) rather than (a) which constitutes John's complex.
So with the Oedipus complex. Harold may "naturally" and "normally"
lust after his mother and be somewhat jealous of his father's attention to his
mother. But if he, while feeling lust and jealousy, does not at the same time
believe that he is worthless or has a relatively low personal value because
of his feelings, he will only have an Oedipal attachment rather than a complex.
If Harold does have a full-blown Oedipus complex, then we may be
pretty sure that, in addition to his lust for his mother, he believes (a) that it
is vitally important that his mother, father, and other people approve or love
him; (b) that it is a terrible thing for him to lust after his mother; (c) that if
his lust is discovered he will be severely disapproved by his parents and
others; (d) that if he actually has sex relations with his mother, the crime
of incest that-he will then be perpetrating is one of the most heinous known
to man and will lead to serious legal and other difficulties; (e) that even if
he never commits incest or commits it and is never caught or punished for
his deed, his mere contemplation of such an act is a horrible offense against
his parents and humanity; and that (f) if his father ever discovers his lust
A Guide To Rational Living
46
for his mother, he may make grim reprisals against Harold, such as castrating him.
Whether Harold's beliefs about his lust for his mother are true or not is
somewhat irrelevant, as long as he strongly holds the kind of beliefs just
listed. Thus, it may not be true that he vitally needs his parents' or others'
approval and that he cannot get along in the world very well without such
approval. Nor may it be true that having sex relations with his mother will
get him into serious trouble; nor that if his father discovers his incestuous
ideas or actions he will castrate Harold. No matter. As long as Harold believes these things to be true, he will tend to be seriously upset.
Although, then, Harold's Oedipal attachment or desires may in large part
be biologically based (or may, as the Freudians say, spring from his id), his
Oedipus complex is not rooted in these desires but in his ideas and attitudes
about the desires. And these ideas and attitudes are largely learned and are
likely to differ widely depending on whether Harold has been raised in one
community or another, in one kind of family or in a different kind.
If, therefore, Harold wishes to overcome his Oedipus complex and the
neurotic symptoms (such as fear of other males) to which it may lead, he
does not have to change his biology (which would be almost impossible)
but to modify his ideas. He does not have to give up lusting after his mother,
but to surrender his notions of how horrible, how criminal is such lusting.
More importantly, Harold, in order to rid himself of his Oedipus complex,
does not have to change or even to understand fully his past ideas about his

Oedipal attachment, but he does have to acquire Insights No.1 and No.2
into his present or still-existing attitudes toward incest. Suppose, for example, that he once lusted after his mother and, being weak and puny and
unable to stand up for himself against the other boys in his neighborhood,
was afraid of his father's "castrating" him not because of his committing the
horrible crime of incest, but because he felt that he "deserved" to be punished for being so weak and ineffective. And suppose that, later in his life,
having grown bigger and taller, he no longer is intimidated by the boys
in his neighborhood, and therefore no longer fears his father's "castration"
in terms of his original fear of his "undeservingness" or "weakness."
Under these circumstances, if Harold now gained insight into his past
castration fears and Oedipus complex, he would perhaps learn little useful
information about himself: since his original complex no longer exists in
the old form, and the details of its origins might be cold and meaningless
potatoes to Harold today. If, however, Harold still, to this very day, has
remnants of his old Oedipus complex, then we can be fairly certain that he
still has some of the irrational ideas that originally caused him to acquire
this complex, or some new variations on these old ideas; and if we can bring
to Harold's attention these remaining illogical notions and get him to acOVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST

47

quire Insights No.1 and No.2 about them, then it hardly matters whether
or not he fully remembers, understands, or works through his original irrationalities (as, in Freudian theory, he is supposed to do in order to be
cured).
No matter how we slice it, therefore, if any human complex still exists to
the extent that it bothers a person in his current life, we can be reasonably
certain that he still harbors some senseless ideas in connection with it; and
it is these present ideas that are most important, whatever the original
ideological sources of his complex may have been. This is why so many
non-Freudian psychoanalysts-such as Adler, Fromm, Horney, Rank, and
Sullivan-emphasize analyzing the patient's present problems, ideas, and
relationships, rather than the gory details of his past history, if he is truly
to overcome his existing neurosis.
As another case in point to show how an individual's past experiences for
all their importance in creating his present difficulties, are hardly insuperable barriers to his understanding and attacking his emotional disturbances,
let us take an instance of maternal rejection. Let us assume that a child is
continually criticized and rejected by his mother; that he consequently feels
himself loathsome and inadequate; that he therefore refuses to try certain
tasks; and that he ends up feeling more and more inadequate.
Such an individual will of course be seriously disturbed. But will he be
disturbed because of the fact of his mother's rejecting him or because of his
ideas about this rejection and its supposed consequences?
Largely, the latter. For the bare fact of maternal rejection is not necessarily noxious, as shown by the observation that in our society not all rejected children turn out too badly, and as also shown by reports that in
certain other societies children are severely criticized and rejected by their
mothers without growing up to be unusually disturbed.
Lili E. Peller writes in this connection, "I have had the opportunity to
observe children-Arab children in rural areas of Palestine and Egyptwhere there is almost no consideration for their welfare, where they experi-

ence the effects of the changing moods of adults; considerations of their


wishes and needs are of no importance and they are a nuisance. Should any
brutality be spared them by their parents, there are plenty of siblings and
hardly-older uncles and aunts to provide it. Yet these children do not become neurotic for lack of love."
What is harmful about maternal rejection in our society is not merely the
rejection itself (though, admittedly, that is not likely to do a child much
good) but the set of ideas that almost all of us learn in connection with this
rejection. These ideas, which are ubiquitous in our fairy tales and other
children's literature and drama, include the notions that (a) one's parents
should be loving and approving and that it is most unfair when they are not;

48 A Guide To Rational Living


(b) if one's mother is not accepting, then one must be worthless and valueless; (c) if one is generally worthless, one will fail at certain important tasks;
( d) if one does fail at certain tasks, this is a horrible crime and proves again
that one is of no worth; and (e) if, out of fear of failing, one avoids certain
tasks and never learns to do them well, this shows that one was apparently
incapable of doing them in the first place and is once again proven to be
incompetent and valueless.
.
It is ideas like these, most of which are highly questionable but which
are nonetheless widely believed and promulgated in our society, which
put the real sting in maternal rejection and make an unpleasant event
terribly traumatizing and neuroticizing. Without the backing of these ideas,
it is dubious whether maternal rejection would be as crippling as it frequently is made to be.
By the same token, it would seem almost impossible for a human being
to be severely hurt by anything but noxious stimuli unless he had traumatizing ideas about what was happening to him. For, aside from literally injuring you physically, what can an external person or thing do to cause
you pain?
A person can of course call you names, disagree with you, show that he
doesn't love you, incite others against you, and so on. But, other than
physically hurting you in some manner-such as directly assaulting you or
indirectly doing something that will deprive you of food, clothing, shelter,
or other physical comforts-all that he can do against you is to use some
kind of negative words, attitudes, or ideas. But he can only effectively employ these words, attitudes, or ideas through you-through your letting
his sallies affect you.
Suppose that some friend or associate says unkind things about you behind your back; or snubs you to your face; or stirs up others against you; or
writes an article labeling you as a blackguard. These are all essentially
words or gestures and no word or gesture can, in itself, hurt you unless you
think it can-unless you let it hurt. If you do not care when someone says
unkind things about you; if you do not mind being snubbed to your face; if
you are not concerned when someone writes nasty things about you; under
these circumstances, how could you possibly be harmed?
Stated differently: there are only two basic kinds of pain that can be
inflicted on you: (a) physical pain, such as that experienced through having
a headache, a stubbed toe, or a case of indigestion; and (b) psychological
or mental pain, such as that experienced through being rejected, losing a
loved object or person, being anxious, or feeling angry. Over physical pain,
you have relatively little control since you may literally be hurt by an external force (someone punching you or something falling on you, for inOVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST
49
stance); and, once physically assaulted, you will normally feel pain and
unhappiness for a certain period of time.
Even in the case of physical pain, however, you often have some degree
of control over your discomfort. If you have a headache and keep telling
yourself how terrible the pain is, and how unfair it is for you to be afflicted
with it, the chances are that your discomfort will be intensified and pro~
longed. But if you have the same headache and keep telling yourself that
it is not so terrible and that this is merely one of those unfortunate events
that frequently happen to humans, the chances are your pain may well be
alleviated and may even disappear.
Physical pain and unhappiness are not the same thing, even though they
significantly overlap. One can be in fairly severe pain and not be too unhappy about it; and one can be in slight pain and be exceptionally miserable. It is not entirely, then, the pain itself which causes us to be unhappy
but also our attitude toward it.
Over the second kind of pain, psychological or mental discomfort, we

have considerably more control. For it seems to be largely our attitude


toward such pain which causes us to be uncomfortable in the first place and
to be unhappy about our discomfort in the second place.
Thus, if someone calls you a liar or a knave, you have your choice, theoretically, of taking him or not taking him seriously. If you take him seriously and tell yourself that it is most important what he thinks of you, you
shall tend to be pained and made unhappy by his words. If you do not take
him too seriously and tell yourself that it does not greatly matter what
he thinks of you, you shall tend to be little pained or made unhappy by his
statement.
Our being hurt by psychological or mental assaults is also intimately
related to our attitude toward ourselves. Suppose someone calls us a liar
and, because we respect him and take him seriously, we are pained by his
words-or, more accurately, we pain ourselves by our interpretation of his
words. If we dislike ourselves and have little self-confidence, we are likely
to say to ourselves: "Oh, my heavens! How awful it is for him to think this
of me. Ill never be able to convince him, now, that I am not a liar. Oh, what
a terrible predicament!"
If, on the other hand, we like ourselves and have considerable self-confidence, we are more likely to think: "Now, how could he call me a liar
when 1 am not one? He must be mistaken, and 1 can surely show him that he
is. Now let me see how I can prove to him that 1 am truthful, so he will view
me with favor again."
Or, in some cases, we might even think: "You know, I believe he's right
about my being a liar. I have done some lying and I'd better admit it. Now,

50 A Guide To Rational Living


that's no way to be if I want people to trust me. So I'd better stop this silly
lying and prove to him and others that I can be as truthful as anyone."
Mental or psychological hurts, then, are intimately related (a) to the
person or situation that seems to be causing the hurt; and (b) to our own
concepts of ourselves. If we are over-concerned about what others think
of us and under-confident of our own abilities and "worth," we tend to be
easily hurt by outside persons and events. If we are little concerned about
what others think and confident of our abilities and "worth," we find it most
difficult to experience, or at least to sustain, any severe psychological hurt.
No matter how much we like ourselves, we may momentarily be disturbed
by something someone has said or done "against" us; but the more we
value our own being, the quicker we tend to question how ''hurtful" another's word or act really is.
To recapitulate what we have been saying in the first part of this book:
Human thinking and emoting are not radically different processes but, at
points, Significantly overlap. Emoting does not occur in a vacuum, but
results from excitation of the brain and nerve pathways (especially the
fibers of the autonomic nervous system), from perceiving and moving (that
is, sensorimotor stimulation), from the influence and the responses to previous emotion, and from thinking.
Sustained emotion, in particular, normally stems from sustained thought.
And, since adult human beings usually think in terms of internalized
phrases and sentences, or self-talk, they sustain their emotions by talking
to themselves or by telling themselves certain kinds of sentences.
In general, negative emotions, such as feelings of depression, anxiety,
anger, and guilt are intensified and sustained by such self-propagandizing
sentences as "This is awful!" "I can't stand that!" And positive emotions,
such as love, joy, and elation, are intensified and sustained by sentences
such as "This is fine!" or "I like that!" Because this is so, human emotions
can often be radically controlled or changed by determining precisely the
kind of sentences lying behind them and then by changing these sentences.
There is no point in trying to control or change all emotions, since some
are indispensable or pleasurable and others are, at worst, only mildly
troublesome. Sustained negative or painful emotions, however, are not
usually indispensable and they frequently lead to the most self-defeating
kinds of behavior. Physical pain and the unhappiness consequent to this
kind of discomfort cannot always be controlled. But psychological or mental
pain and its resultant misery generally can be controlled or eradicated, since
in human adults it originates not in the external events they experience but
in their attitudes toward these events.
No matter what a person's past history may be, or how his parents,
teachers, and other early associates may have helped him to become emoOVERCOMING THE INFLUENCES OF THE PAST
51
tionally disturbed, he only remains disturbed because he still believes some
of the unrealistic and illogical thoughts which he originally imbibed. To
become undisturbed, therefore, it is only necessary that he see what his
present irrational self-indoctrinations are and that he energetically and consistently work at deindoctrinating and reindoctrinating himself in these connections. His understanding of how he first became neurotic may be of some
help, but it is most unlikely that it will be truly curative.
Emotional pain or disturbance, in sum, usually originates in some irrational or illogical ideas. The job of the neurotic is to uncover and understand the basic unrealistic ideas with which he is disturbing himself; to
see clearly the misinformation and illogic behind these ideas; and, on the
basis of better information and clearer thinking, to change the notions which
lie behind and keep creating his disturbance.

How Reasonable
Is Reason?

man has trouble thinking straight and acting well. No matter


how bright and well-educated an individual may be, he invariably finds it
easy, horribly easy, to make a dunce of himself. And not once or twice in a
lifetime, either. Continually, rather; yes, almost continually.
Is man, then, as the philosophers have for centuries been telling us, truly
a rational animal? Yes, he is;-and no, he isn't. He has the most incredibly
mixed-up combination of common sense and uncommon senselessness you
ever did see. And yet, of course, he has done and will doubtlessly continue
to do absolute wonders with his mental processes, and he is so far removed
from his closest lower-order animal neighbors (the higher apes) in this respect that even most of his moronic brothers are distinctly more intelligent
than these brightest of sub-humans.
Yes, man is a highly reasonable, brain-using animal. But he also has
distinct biological tendencies to act in the most ridiculous, prejudiced,
amazingly asinine ways. He is, quite normally and naturally, inclined to
be childish, suggestible, superstitious, bigoted, and downright idiotic about
much of his personal behavior, particularly about his relations with other
human beings. And even when, as often is the case, he knows that he is
behaving in a self-defeating, perfectly senseless manner, and knows that he
would be far happier and healthier if he acted otherwise, he has such great
difficulty achieving and sustaining a level of sound and sane behavior that
he rarely does so for any length of time, but keeps instead continually falling back to his puerile ways.
LET'S FACE IT,

52
HOW REASONABLE IS REASON?

53

Take a typical case in point. Miss Marlo Long, when I (R.A.H.) first met
her in my office, was an unusually pretty and highly intelligent girl of
twenty-three who functioned very efficiently as secretary to the president
of a large corporation and would probably have been headed, were she of
the other sex, toward one of the highest positions in her firm. Although she
had no more than the usual high school education, she started working for
this firm at the age of nineteen and, because of her pleasant personality, intelligence, industry, and efficiency rose quickly from one of twenty girls in a
stenographic pool to the most important and responsible secretarial position
in her company.
In her love life, however, Marlo was hardly as effective. She met an
older man when she was twenty, began living with him after knowing him a
few weeks, was shocked to learn that he was still married and had little
intention of divorcing his estranged wife, convinced herself that life was no

longer worth living under these circumstances, and took a large dose of
sleeping tablets. She was discovered by a friend and rushed to the hospital
in time to have her stomach pumped and her life saved.
Romantically enough, the young resident physician, Jake Golden, who
pumped out Marlo's stomach, quickly fell in love with her and they began
dating. She resisted his advances for many months, for she felt that "all
men were no good" after her experience with her first lover. This highly intelligent girl, in other words, found it surprisingly easy to make one of the
most facile and ridiculous mistakes to be found in any primer of logic-that
of absurd over-generalization. Because one lover had turned out to be
untruthful and unreliable, all potential lovers were categorized as being
equally prevaricative and irresponsible.
But this was not the worst of it. By extreme patience and understanding,
the young medic countered Marlo's over-generalized fears and finally convinced her that he really did love her and wanted to marry her. She reluctantly agreed, but felt rather relieved that their actual wedding date had
to be postponed for another year, until after he had finished school and
passed his medical boards. Even though she knew at this point that Jake
was most loving and trustworthy, she also felt-that is, strongly believed, in
spite of complete lack of evidence-that maybe he did not really care for
her the way he kept saying and showing that he did.
In this instance, Marlo's internalized illogic was a little more complicated
and more roundaboutly insane. What she consciously was saying to herself
was, "My first lover seemed to care for me and actually didn't. Now Jake
seems to care for me-how do I know that he really does?" Here again, in
slightly different form, is an example of Marlo's more limited kind of overgeneralization, which remained even after she had given up the previous

54
A Guide To Rational Living
more universal kind (namely, "My first lover was irresponsible; therefore
all men are") .
But this, as we said a couple of paragraphs back, was not the worst of it.
What Marlo was actually, quite unconsciously, saying to herself was this
illogical chain of sentences, "The reason my first lover left me was not because of his own irresponsibility but because he finally discovered, what I
have known all my life, how worthless a person I am. And since I am so
worthless, and since Jake is so obviously a nice person and a thoroughly
worthwhile individual, he couldn't possibly care for me as he thinks he
does. Just as soon as he finds me out-as my first lover did after a few
months-he, too, is bound to see that there's no point in going on with me;
and he, too, will then leave me. So it's just as well that we wait a year before
we marry, by which time he will have found me out, left me, and thereby
avoided any drawn-out nightmare of marrying and divorcing."
So Marlo, this wonderfully bright and efficient girl, "reasoned." And with
this kind of illogical thinking, she secretly awaited the breakup of her engagement to Jake, which she was sure would come just as soon as he really
found her out.
Then the next logical step in this inordinately illogical chain of thinking
occurred. Once Marlo decided that perhaps Jake was to be trusted a little
-for, remember, he was still a man-and that she really did love him, she
began to become extremely jealous and possessive. If he were ten minutes
late meeting her after his working day (or night) at the hospital, she would
give him a regular third-degree grilling. If he smiled pleasantly at a patient,
nurse, or hospital receptionist, she accused him of being "on the make."
Here again we have an extension of Marlo's previous irrational thinking.
Since one man jilted her, this man might do the same. And since Jake really
seems to care for her, how can she be perfectly, absolutely sure that she is
truly lovable and deserving of his caring? Moreover, since she is still somewhat indecisive about her feelings (because of her general doubts about
men, Jake, and herself), how does she know, how can she be sure, that he
is not still indecisive about his feelings for her?
All kinds of unconscious and semi-conscious thoughts such as these
kept going through Marlo's mind and the behavioral result was deepseated
feelings of insecurity-which almost inevitably, in heterosexual relations,
lead to intense jealousy.
Jake, recognizing Marlo's jealousy as evidence of her own insecurity,
nicely put up with her compulsive inquiries and possessive challenges and
finally induced her to undertake orthodox psychoanalysis-which Marlo
experienced three times a week for the next two years. Most of the analytic
sessions were concerned with Marlo's early life and the disclosure of the
fact that although she ostensibly loved her father and was his favorite
HOW REASONABLE IS REASON?

child, she often feared that he would discover how bad a person she was
and would reject her in favor of her older sister. Marlo's analyst thought
that this childhood pattern was a precursor and a cause of most of her later
behavior with her first lover and with Jake. Marlo didn't strongly disagree
with him and did feel somewhat better as a result of her analytic sessions;
but dredging up the facts of her childhood had no effect whatsoever on her
current feelings of extreme jealousy and possessiveness. In considerable
disgust and despair, she terminated her psychoanalysis.
By this time Jake was getting discouraged himself and was taking an increasingly dim view of the prospects of his having a happy married life with
Marlo. Knowing, however, her suicidal tendencies, he decided to place her
under psychotherapeutic care before he broke with her; and he insisted
that she try at least a few sessions with me. After she had seen me five times,
and we had started working actively at her basic irrational thinking, Jake
told Marlo that he was definitely and permanently breaking off his rela-

55

tionship with her and literally left her at my door.


Quite understandably, we had quite a session. Marlo, in spite of some
sedation which Jake had given her during their talk that day, was in an
hysterical condition as we started the interview. After fifteen minutes
largely devoted to my helping her quiet down she said: 'Well, I know what
X must do now. I must finish that job he delayed for three years:'
"You mean commit suicide?" I asked.
Yes.
"That, of course, is your privilege. And do you mind," I persisted in an almost jocular voice, "telling me why you plan to slit your own throat when
you could so nicely stick around and torture yourself for another half a century or so?"
I have found, through considerable experience with people intent on suicide, that the best counter-attack is often to discuss their intent quite
openly, forthrightly, and with a certain degree of casual humor-as matters of all kinds are usually discussed in rational therapy sessions. For the
rational therapist holds a deep personal conviction that life is-that aliveness is a basis, a fundamental premise of existence from which other behavioral assumptions derive. Consequently, although I think that life can be
a most enjoyable process, I grant to others the right to differ and I believe
that anyone, including one of my patients, has the privilege of deciding to
stop living.
I do not get upset, therefore, when one of my patients threatens suicide,
but deal with this usually quite irrational thought in the same way that I
and other rational therapists treat a patient's non-suicidal illogical beliefs.
My patients thus see that I know they are serious in contemplating suicide, that I do not deny their right to commit it, but that I very much want

56 A Guide To Rational Living


them to reconsider some points about living and to see if dying is what
they
really want. Thus far, I am happy to say, I have lost no patients via
suicide.
But back to Marlo. "I know it's my privilege," she said, "to take my
life.
And since I find that it's just not worth going on with it, that's exactly
what
I intend to do. It's a phony deal. No one can be trusted or depended
upon.
Things always end up the same."
.
"How so? Just because two lovers in a row have left you? That's a
hell of
a big conclusion from a pitifully small bit of evidence!"
"Just the same-it's always the same."
"Hogwash! How can a bright girl like you believe such twaddle? I see
very little similarity between your first lover's leaving you because he
just
didn't want to assume the responsibilities of divorcing his wife and taking on another and Jake's leaving you because, to say the least, you've
acted like the most godawful pain in the neck he's doubtlessly ever met
among your sex. And isn't the solution-if you really want a solution to
your problem of maintaining a secure relationship with a man of your
choice-doesn't the solution lie in your stopping being a pain in the neck,
rather than the males of the world stopping doing you in?"
"But how do I know that Jake didn't plan this, right from the start, just

l
i
k
e
T
h
o
r
w
a
l
d
,
m
y
f
i
r
s
t
l
o
v
e
r
,
d

id three years ago? How do I know that he


didn't deliberately take everything he could get from me and then leave
me just before we were going to prepare for the marriage?"
"You don't know-for sure. But the situation certainly doesn't seem
the.
way you are now setting it up. Not to me, it doesn't! Besides, let us
suppose
for a moment that your views are accurate, and that Jake really did, just
like
the first man in your life, plan to get what he could out of you sexually
and then leave you waiting at the church. So? That would certainly
show
that he, just like Thorwald, was a scoundrel. But is that your problem?
Is
that any reason why you should splatter your brains over your lovely
Persian rug?"
"But if I can't trust anyone," Marlo half-wailed, "how can I see any
prospect of my ever being happy?"
"Anyone?" I relentlessly persisted. "I can't see how two men in an
entire
lifetime, so far, equal anyone. Let's even say, for the sake of your
argument,
that both Thorwald and Jake proved to be entirely untrustworthy. Aren't
you more than slightly over-generalizing? If you hired two girls in a row
to
assist you in your work at the office and both of them proved to be quite
unreliable, would you necessarily conclude that there is not anyone you
could possibly ever get who would be more reliable?"
"No, I guess I wouldn't. I see what you mean."
"And even if we may grant-for the sake, again, of your argument-that

you have had the unusual misfortune of meeting two grade-A


blackguards
HOW REASONABLE IS REASON?

in succession, is this such an impressive record of adversity that you are justified in telling yourself that your whole life process is a fraud and should
be forthrightly dispensed with?"
"You seem to dismiss Jake and my losing him as nothing worth considering," Marlo (now quite unhysterically) said.
"Not at all. Could we not more appropriately say that you seem to consider yourself and your losing you as nothing worth considering?"
"You mean-I am showing, by getting this upset and thinking of ending it all, that 1 don't consider myself sufficiently worth going on with?"
"Well, do you? You remind me somewhat, in this connection, of the
woman who was asked by the judge who was trying her for speeding, "How
come, Madam, that you have five children, ranging in ages from one to
eight, when you just told me that the only husband you ever had has been
dead for three years.' 'Well, Judge: she replied, 'My husband may be
dead-but I'm not!' This woman, obviously, thought life worth going on
with even when her husband was irrevocably gone. She liked herself.
Do you?"
"But how can I like myself when, as you can see, no-one else seems to do
so, when one man after another keeps rejecting me? Doesn't this indicate

something?"
"Yes, it indicates something about you-that you believe it is all-important to be accepted by others, particularly by a man of your choice, as

57

a prerequisite for accepting yourself. It indicates that you make your selfliking dependent upon the approval of others, and that you illogically keep
telling yourself, 'Because I am intrinsically worthless, and can only consider myself worthwhile if others approve me, and because two men in
succession have not approved me sufficiently to take me to the altar, this
proves what I was sure of in the first place: that I am intrinsically worthless.' Can't you see the senseless circularity of this reasoning?"
"Mmmm. Let me get that straight now. You're saying that I'm saying and
have always said to myself, 'I am only worthwhile and my life is only worth
living if and when others, especially a chosen boyfriend, truly care for
me.' And then, when I find they do not care for me as much as I thought
they did, I immediately conclude that 'Yes, of course they don't care. Because, as I said in the first place, I'm worthless, and how could they ever
possibly really care for a worthless person like me?' Mmmm. That is circular reasoning, if I actually am saying that to myself."
"Well, aren't you?"
"Looks like it, doesn't it? I'll have to give this some more thought."
"That's exactly what we're here for: to give this sort of thing more
thought. And to have you think more about it outside these sessions. While

58 A Guide To Rational Living


you're thinking about, please give a little thought to a further aspect of it,
too."
"And what is that?" Marlo asked. She now, incidentally, as are most of
my patients after I meet their hysterical outbursts with calm reasoning,
and especially after I force them to think about the reasons for such outbursts themselves, was so intent on looking at herself in a problem-solving
way that one would never have dreamed that, just a few minutes before, she
had been almost ready to plunge out of my office window.
"Think, if you will," I said, "of the enormous demands you keep making
on people, such as Jake in particular, with whom you became involved.
Precisely because you do consider yourself essentially worthless, and believe that you need their approval to make you "worthwhile," you don't
merely, as you mistakenly think you do, ask them to act in a certain way
toward you; rather, you demand that they do."
"I demand that Jake approve of me, no matter how I treat him or what
I do? Is that what you mean?"
"Yes. To fulfill your own needs for great approval, you expect him to conform rigidly to your preconceived ideas of how a man courting you and intending to marry you should behave. And when he does not act precisely
the way you think he ought to act-and Lord knows you try every possible
test in the books to see if he is acting this way!-you immediately raise hell
with him and call him untrustworthy. Finally, by continuing to make your
unreasonable demands, and forcing him-yes, actually forcing him-to
turn away from you, you 'prove' to yourself how untrustworthy you were
sure he was in the first place. Actually, of course, you only 'prove' how unindependent, again, you are of his and others' approval. Another round of
circular thinking!"
"I think I need him to bolster me. Then I force him to conform to my socalled needs. Then he doesn't do so, because he finds me such a bother.
Then I tell myself, because he finds me such a bother, that this proves that
I was no good in the first place and that I need Jake or someone else to
bolster me and help poor unworthy me get along in this big bad world.
Golly, I really do have it in for myself-all along the line-don't I?"
You do! And until we can help you to trust and honor yourself most of
the time, how can we ever expect you to be able to trust people like Jake
and find them honorable? Until we can get you to see that it is not catastrophic, but merely unpleasant, when you are rejected by a lover, how can
we ever expect you to act well enough with such a lover that he will not
eventually find you too much bother?"
So Marlo and I continued to talk. And by the end of this session she was
not only entirely calm but perceptibly began to show a new kind of thinkHOW REASONABLE IS REASON?

ing about herself, and a concomitant new aspect of self-confidence, that


she had never displayed before.
It would be nice to report that, as a result of a good many more therapeutic sessions and hundreds of well-spent hours rethinking things with
herself, she is now happily married to Jake. That, alas, is not true; since, in
spite of her notable improvements in her attitudes toward herself, Jake had
already had it, and only occasionally saw Marlo again. But before another
year had passed Marlo had found a new beau, related to him with much
more realistic expectations and without undue jealousy and possessiveness, and consummated what still appears to be (three and a half years
later, at this writing) a good marriage.
To return to our main theme in this chapter: Because she was a very human human being, Marlo found it very easy to mix herself up about her love
life, even though in outside affairs she was most intelligent and efficient. To
over-generalize; to continue to have unchallenged premises about her own

59

basic worthlessness; to think that she was only normally asking certain responses from her fiance when she was actually abnormally making unrealistic demands on him-these kinds of elementary errors in logic were
the easiest thing in the world for this bright girl to make.
Why? Because Marlo is human. Because humans have ten or twelve years
of real childhood during which they are weak, dependent, and unable to
discriminate very well between sensible and silly behavior. Because, once
having technically outgrown their childhood, they tend to remain affected
by it and its experiences for the rest of their lives. Because, no matter how
old they may be and how bright about external affairs, they have some
difficulty objectively viewing their own behavior and their relations with
others. Because they have some atavistic biological tendencies to get anxious or hostile at times, even when such feelings are most inappropriate to
their effective present behavior. Because they are literally trained by their
families and their communities, from childhood onward, to remain gullible,
suggestible, and conformist in many significant ways. Because, being human, they are afflicted with physiological tendencies (not instincts, but
what Maslow calls instinctoid tendencies) toward habit patterning, inertia,
excitement-seeking, moodiness, negativism, and other action or inactiontendencies which frequently interfere with calm thinking and concerted
planning and which encourage them, even when they see what sane conduct is, to fall back into self-defeating modes of behavior.
Particularly in regard to his social existence man tends to be indiscriminative and unreflective. For it is difficult, and at times almost impossible, for
a reasonably intelligent human being consistently to discriminate between
sensible and senseless modes of social behavior. If this same human lived by
himself on a desert island, he would probably have little trouble in act-

60 A Guide To Rational Living


ing sanely most of the time and only occasionally falling back into selfdestructive behavior.
But he does not live on a desert island. And, whether he likes it or not and
whether or not he has so called gregarious urges, he must cooperate with
and conform to his social milieu to a considerable degree. Yet, at the same
time, he must also, if he is to be truly human and fulfill his own .(and, again,
probably instinctoid) biosocial destiny, achieve a considerable degree of
social independence and individualism-must succeed in expressing and
being himself.
These two partially conflicting goals of man are perhaps the most difficult thing in the world to achieve to any even near-perfect degree. In fact,
anything but a highly imperfect, temporary, and continually shifting kind
of resolution of the largely antagonistic goals of being oneself and simultaneously getting along well with others is probably impossible.
Take the relatively simple situation, for example, in which you are sitting around talking to a group of seven or eight friends or acquaintances.
Suppose you are fairly bright and well-informed and that most of the
other members of the group are on a similar social and educational level.
Suppose, also, that you are not seriously emotionally disturbed, neither too
shy or retiring on the one hand, nor overly aggressive and Queen-of-theMayish on the other. Nor, in general, are you a terribly anxious or unreasonably hostile individual.
Nonetheless, you are in something of an individual-social pickle. If you
cajole or force the members of the group to talk about the things in which
you are most interested, several of them will probably soon become bored
and disgusted with your "hogging the floor." But if you completely go along
with what the other members of the group spontaneously want to discuss,
the chances are that you will find yourself sitting in dead, somewhat pained
silence for a good part of the evening.
If, when a subject about which you have strong views comes up for discussion, you honestly say what you feel about it, some members of the
group are very likely to feel hurt, insulted, or angry. If you carefully keep
your mouth shut at times, or only very cautiously express some of your
own deepest-felt views, you will surely begin to feel frustrated and edgy
yourself.
If you most considerately and politely allow other members of the group
to have their say whenever they feel the urge to do so, the chances are that
some of them may not be equally polite, will monopolize the conversation
when you believe you are giving them a moderately short opening in
which to express themselves, and will by their behavior probably force you,
by the end of the discussion, to remain silent about several things which
you think are important and which you very much would have liked to say.

HOW REASONABLE IS REASON?

61

If, however, you are quite uninhibited about breaking into the conversation when you have something pressing on your mind, some of the other
group members are almost certain to feel that their toes are being stepped
upon and that they have not been sufficiently able to express themselves in
the course of the evening.
You really can't win-not completely, that is. No matter what you do,
there is no perfect solution. Even in this fairly simple group situation, if
you behave as you really want to behave, some or most of the group members will feel that their wants are impinged upon and will tend to dislike
you; and if you behave as you feel the group members want you to behave,
you will almost inevitably feel that your basic desires are frustrated and
will tend to dislike some or most of the others. Unless, by sheer accident,
your wants happen to coincide with those of all the other members of the
group (a highly unlikely occurrence ) someone, you or they, is bound to be
frustrated; and anxiety or anger, on your part or theirs, is almost certain to
be an easy possibility.
Things get much more complicated, of course, if you unduly care what
other members of the group (or people outside the group) think of your
behavior. For if you are quite concerned about having the group members
think well of you, you will tend to lean over backward to do what they want
you to do, instead of what you want to do yourself; and then you will tend
to hate yourself for being a milksop and hate them for witnessing your
patsyism. Or else you will do what you mainly want to do-and then worry
inordinately whether they still like you for doing it.
Such an inordinate degree of caring for the approval of others is a form
of neurosis. But even without such neurotic feelings and actions on your
part, the careful discriminations that you must make, and continually keep
making, between what you would like to do and what it might be better for
you to do in group situations tend to be most difficult to make and inevitably
lead to somewhat discouraging results. For you want to be yourself. And
you also want other people to be comfortable in your presence and to approve your behavior-quite apart from any neurotic needs for approval
that you may have. You are constantly torn, therefore, between two conflicting desires; and there is never-no, never-a permanent resolution of
this conflict.
All this, mind you, in the simplest kind of a social situation. In a more
complicated kind of individual-group relationship, things get even hotter.
Thus, in a highly competitive group-such as a classroom where most of
the members of the class are trying to get into favorite colleges, or a business
office where it is required that the employees, at one and the same time, cooperate with each other to win out over rival businesses and compete with
each other to make higher commissions or salaries-it often becomes con-

62 A Guide To Rational Living


siderably more difficult to do what one wants to do (a) for one's own individual ends and (b) for gaining and keeping the favor of the other group
members.
In almost any social group, therefore, you will find it tough sledding to
keep a sane, somewhat middle-of-the-road course and to avoid surrendering your personal tastes, preferences, and expressive tendencies while also
avoiding getting into real difficulties with other group members. What
your best reasoned or most reasonable approach will be in such groups
cannot be fully calculated in advance and must continually shift, from time
to time, with changing conditions in you and in others. Thus, when you
first enter a discussion group, it may be wise to keep your mouth shut for
twenty minutes or more and let the other group members have something of
their say; then it may be best to get in your own two cents' worth, even
though those who previously held the floor would love to continue holding
it; and then it may be reasonable to give the others a chance to do more
speaking again. But exactly when and where to draw the line between your
own active participation and polite acceptance of others' participation is
almost never calculable in advance and depends on many different personal
and group factors.
Another way of stating what we have just pointed out is to acknowledge
that both self-expression and social acceptance are to some degree desirable in virtually everyone's life; and that although some form of hedonism,
pleasure-seeking, or enlightened self-interest seems to be as good a plan
of personal living as anyone has yet devised, enlightened self-interest includes, and cannot possibly sanely ignore, some degree of social interest as
well. For if one only strove for his "own" good, and ran roughshod over
others in the process, the chances are at least 99 out of 100 that those over
whom he was riding would sooner or later scotch his "own" good. Therefore,
to some extent included in his concept of his "own" good must be the good
of others as well.
Similarly, if you mainly concentrate on striving mightily for your immediate good-if you employ the general principle of short-range hedonism
-you will almost inevitably, even if you presently succeed, sabotage many
of your potential future enjoyments. "Live for today, for tomorrow you may
die" is a perfectly sane philosophy-if there is a good chance that you will
die tomorrow. Most of the time, however, you live to the ripe old age of 70
or 80 these days; and your tomorrows are likely to be miserable if you just
live for today. At the same time, if you only live for tomorrow, your todays
are likely to be over-cautiously and drably lived; and again you will in the
long run defeat your own ends.
Reason, then, is a hard task-master. It is never absolutely good or certain as a standard of conduct and drawing the exact line between what is
HOW REASONABLE IS REASON?

reasonable and what is not, even in the best of circumstances, is often difficult. When taken to extremes, moreover, rationality can quickly become
highly irrational. For several reasons:
1. As we have previously pointed out, some degree of emotionality seems
to be necessary to human survival and it would probably be unreasonable,
meaning self-defeating, for us never to have strong, rather prejudiced reactions-such as our "irrationally" wanting to kill, and perhaps viciously
lashing out at, someone who has (accidentally or deliberately) stepped on
our toe.
2. Human tastes or preferences, which are frequently quite "irrational"
or "groundless", may add considerable pleasure and interest to life. It is, in
a sense, "unreasonable" for an individual to be obsessed with collecting
stamps, or making his girlfriend or wife happy, or listening to music ten
hours a day. But many people derive enormous, harmless enjoyment from
these kinds of "irrational" or "emotional" pursuits. "Pure intellect," if this

63

ever really existed, would be highly efficient but equally pleasure-less. "Affects" (one of the older names for emotions) are designated that way because they affect us-influence us to obtain pleasure (as well as pain).
Without any kind of feeling or emotion, human existence might persist but
it would be incredibly dull.
3. Reason, when carried to extremes, sometimes becomes inefficient and
self-sabotaging. If every time we tied a shoelace or ate a piece of bread, we
had to stop and reason whether this was the "right" or "best" thing to do or
way to do it, our reason would become more of a hindrance than a help and
we would end, perhaps, by being highly rational-and unhappy.
4. A totally reasoned-out life would presumably be a mechanical existence-a life that was too cold, unfeeling, and machinelike. It would, as the
critics of rational therapy often go to great lengths to point out, undermine the creation and expression of much that is dear to sensitive human
beings, particularly in the realm of art, literature, music, and other modes
of esthetics.
All these accusations against extreme rationality have some validity. But
they are also something of straw-man objections which themselves are often
taken to irrational extremes. When boiled down to their essences, they often
consist of the objector's fear of the unknown. Even though his present,
highly irrational state of being is distinctly uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden, he at least knows the limits of the pain he receives from it. Not knowing,
of course, the degree of discomfort he might obtain if he were living a rational life, and (quite irrationally) fearing that it might even be greater
than his present discomfort, he dreams up strawmen horrors about rationality in order to give himself an excuse for not attempting to attain it.
Or again: knowing that his present irrational state is producing un-

64 A Guide To Rational Living


pleasant behavioral results, but also knowing that thinking and acting more
logically will be a very difficult state to achieve and will require considerable expenditure of time and effort, the presently neurotic individual lazily
(usually meaning fearfully or rebelliously) spends more effort thinking up
arguments against rationality than in experimentally trying to apply it to
his life.
One of my (R.A.H.'s) patients, for example, kept resisting my rational
approach to his severe problem of anxiety and compulsive eating and
frankly admitted that he was resisting therapy.
"Are you afraid," I asked, "that if you reconstruct your life along the ways
we have been discussing, you will become a kind of rational machinemonster?"
"Well, in a sense, yes," the patient replied.
"All right. Now let's look at your fear of becoming machine-like as a result of therapy just as we would examine any of your other anxieties. What
evidence is there to support your concern? Name a person you know who
seems so rational that he doesn't appear to enjoy life and seems to be a
logical machine, as you have been implying?"
"Well, I don't know, exactly. But I must admit that at times you seem a
bit, you know, that way yourself. You do seem awfully efficient. And you
never get upset about things. Even when I break down and cry or rant it
doesn't seem to affect you. And that seems strange and, well, maybe a
bit heartless to me."
"And this proves that I am coldly and dreadfully incapable of enjoying
life, or being happy?"
"Not exactly. But I am afraid that I might be unhappy if I became so calm
and objective, like you."
"Ah, but that's quite a different thing, isn't it? Here you are, almost as
miserable as you can be, with your extreme anxiety and compulsiveness;
and here I am, as you just described me, never getting upset about things.
Obviously, if your description of me is accurate, I can't be very unhappy.
And yet you are afraid that if you become relatively calm, like me, you
will magically become unhappy, or at least incapable of being happy. Is
that right?"
"Yes. Somehow, that's the way I feel."
"You mean, really, that's the way you believe. But I still ask: what is the
evidence for your belief? Have you experimentally tried, even for a few
days or weeks, being as calm as I? Have you, in the course of such a trial,
proven to your own satisfaction-or shall we say, your own dissatisfaction?
-that you would then be even worse off, more unhappy, than you are
now?"
"No, I can't say I have."
HOW REASONABLE IS REASON?

"Then why don't you, quite experimentally, try? After all, you can always
return to your present miserable state, you know, if this kind of honest trial
fails. If, somehow, you try being more rational and start turning into an
IBM-like zombie, you can always reintroduce whatever degree of non-rationality or irrationality you care to get back into your life. You sign no
contract to go on irrationally becoming more and more coldly 'rational,' if
that's how your experiment in logical thinking actually starts turning out.
So far as I can see, however, since you haven't even tried rationality yet, and
since you are indubitably miserable being your dear old present irrational
self, you are setting up a bogeyman as an excuse against the dangers, or
what you consider to be the dangers, of changing yourself."
"You mean people like me actually are so afraid to change their ways that
they dream up exaggerated and false objections to doing so?"
"Precisely. Without even trying a thing, they set up so many theoretical,
and often highly fanciful objections to it that they never give themselves a
chance to learn whether it would be satisfying for them or not."

65

"You mean like homosexuals, for instance, who never give themselves a
chance to find out whether they could enjoy girls, because they convince
themselves in advance, out of sheer childish prejudice and fear, that they
never could enjoy them?"
"Right. Ill never forget how my associate, Dr. Albert Ellis, handled this
very problem you're raising when he was speaking to a large audience at the
American Psychological Association some years ago. He had been contending that homosexuals are necessarily disturbed because, when they fixatedly
and exclusively go for members of their own sex, they are obviously underlyingly afraid of or rebellious against members of the other sex. A psychologist in the audience objected;
" But, Doctor Ellis, isn't it possible that some people are naturally prejudiced, by their own tastes, against some modes of sex participation? If, for
example, an individual has a natural prejudice against eating oysters,
would you consider him abnormal or neurotic?'
"'Not necessarily,' Dr. Ellis replied. 'But if I encountered someone who
was "naturally" prejudiced against eating oysters, without once having
looked at them, smelled them, or tasted them, I would certainly consider
him neurotic. For how else would he, except by sheer irrational prejudice,
then acquire his "natural" taste? So with homosexuals: when I find as I
frequently do, that they have never tried kissing or having sex relations
with a girl': and they are still convinced that doing so would be highly unpleasant, I can only suspect that they are woefully fearful of or angry at
females. And this, their fear or their anger, is their sickness, not their homosexual behavior in itself.' "
"So you think that my sickness, right now, is not so much my being irra-

66 A Guide To Rational Living


tional, but my refusing to even try rationality and then insisting that, if I did
try it, it would make me into a mechanical-like, unemotional zombie?"
"Exactly. Why don't you try it and see?"
And this patient did try thinking more logically about his compulsive
eating and did seriously begin to question and challenge his many crippling
anxieties. Several weeks later, after making considerable progress in these
directions, he enthusiastically reported:
.
"Not only have I stopped eating when I'm not really hungry, as I was doing when I came to see you; but I've actually started a real diet for the first
time in years and have already lost eight pounds. I'm sure I'll be able to
keep it up, too, now that I see that my eating was mainly a device to divert
myself from my real central problem, which was, and still seems to bethough at last I'm beginning to make some inroads there, tool-my unwillingness to face the hazards of life myself, without falling back on the
help of my parents, my wife, and even my children.
"The main thing I wanted to tell you, Dr. Harper, is something a little on
the side. And that is that as my compulsive eating and some of my fears of
standing on my own two feet kept going down, that mechanical-like feeling
that I told you I was so afraid of getting a few weeks ago just hasn't materialized at all. Just the opposite, I'm so darned more emotional, in a good
way, and enthused about my life now that I practically go to the office singing every morning. In fact, this very morning I did find myself singing, for
the first time in years, on the way to work. And I stopped for a moment, when
I saw what I was doing, and said to myself, 'Holy cats! That son-of-a-gun
Harper was right. If singing on the way to work is an example of how
mechanical this rational therapy stuff is going to make me, I think I'd better get some even heavier doses of that rational thinking and learn to
warble like a nightingale!' Mechanical-schmechanical-I'm beginning to
like being this kind of a robot!"
As this patient began to see, a thorough rational approach to life does not
mean a one-sided, monolithic kind of rationality. The definition of rational,
as employed in modern social science and in the relatively new field of game
theory, is: showing reason; not foolish or silly; sensible; leading to efficient
results; producing desired effects with a minimum of expense, waste, unnecessary eHort, or unpleasant side effects,
Human reason, therefore, includes and decidedly makes allowances for
emotionality, unthinking habit performance, and whatever else is needed
for an effective, anxiety-minimized existence. Rational living is not, according to our definition, an end in itself; but life is truly rational only when it
is experienced for the purpose of making the liver less unhappy and more
satisfied with his existence.
Rationality, as we use the term, is never perfectionistic or absolutistic.
HOW REASONABLE IS BEASON?

Although we consider ourselves to be highly rational, we are not, in the


sense in which the word is often used in philosophy, dedicated rationalists
(Ellis). Rationalism is the theory that reason or intellect, rather than the
senses, is the true source of knowledge. This we do not believe: since, like
almost all modem scientists and logical empiricists, we believe that knowledge ultimately stems from and must be directly or indirectly related back
to our perceiving-to the observations of our senses of touch, smell, sight,
hearing, and tasting.
If rational thinking is not considered as an Absolute Good, or an end in
itself, but more reasonably deemed to be a means toward the end of maximizing human well-being-and particularly of minimizing anxiety, depression, hostility, and other highly emotionalized blocks to well-being-then
it is difficult to see how one can possibly be too rational. Extreme, exaggerated, or over-rationality is a self-contradiction. As soon as reason is taken
to ridiculous, self-defeating extremes, it no longer, of course, is reason. Ra-

67

ther, it is then anti-reason.


A truly rational approach to life cannot ever lead to the mechanization or
under-emotionalizing of man. Rational means, we repeat, sensible, efficient,
unself-defeating. And human emotion, sensitivity, creativity, and art are
normally as rational (that is, as harmlessly satisfying and pleasure-producing) as they could possibly be. As shown in the case cited a few pages back,
when an individual, be he an outstanding philosopher (such as Jose Ortega y Gasset) or an average man, fears that he will become too rational
when he uses his thinking ability to regulate his own life, he is either
ignorant of the definition of rational employed in this book or else he is
defensively afraid of or rebellious against giving up his present irrational
and self-defeating ways. In which event his rationalizing blocks his being
truly rational.
Although rationalizing, in a philosophic sense, means to make rational or
to make conform to reason, in a psychological sense it means to devise superficially rational or seemingly plausible explanations or excuses for one's
acts, beliefs, or desires, usually, without being aware that these are not
one's real motives. Psychologically, therefore, rationalizing or excusing
one's behavior is virtually the opposite of being rational about it.
Similarly, although to intellectualize, in a philosophic sense, means to reason or to think, in a psychological sense it means to overemphasize intellectual pursuits such as mathematics and to consider them superior to other
pursuits such as popular drama or music. To intellectualize also, psychologically, has come to mean to think about one's emotional problems in
such a detailed and compulsive manner as to deny their true existence and
to avoid rather than to attempt solving them.
Although, therefore, the principles of rational therapy and rational liv-

68 A Guide To Rational Living


ing, as their names imply, strongly favor a highly reasoned approach to human life, they do not favor a rationalizing or intellectualistic approach, as
these terms are often used in modem psychology. To reason one's way out
of one's emotional difficulties (which, according to our theory, one has previously unreasoned oneself into) is highly sane and sensible. But to rationalize or intellectualize about one's self-defeating, neurotic behavior is to help
perpetuate it endlessly. We will have no truck whatever with rationalization and intellectualization; and if our opponents, as they often do, accuse
us of advocating rationalized and intellectualized "solutions" to human ills,
that (alas for them) is their problem.

The Art
of Never Being
Desperately Unhappy

ANYONE WHO TRIES to

give you a rule by which you can always be happy


is either a fool or a knave. And yet we unhesitantly declare: We can teach
you the art of (virtually) never being unhappy.
Do we contradict ourselves? Seemingly so; actually not. Happiness, or
a positive feeling of pleasure, joy, or elation, is usually a by-product of
what you do, and cannot intelligently be sought in its own right. What you,
as a unique human individual, do, and how much pleasure you get from
doing it largely depends on your personal preferences-which are not
easily predictable or changeable. You may adore a walk in the country; or
you may hate it. You may become ecstatic over going to bed with your
spouse; or you may look upon doing so as an odious chore. Who are we,
then, to tell you what will probably bring you joy?
We legitimately may, of course, tell you what makes us happy or what
brings someone else joy, but we cannot predict, except by putting you
through actual experiences or trials, what will make you highly satisfied.
We can be quite vague, if we are cagy enough, and tell you that something
general, such as absorbing work or vital interest in a cause, will probably
make you happy. But what work or what vital interest will do the trick for
you we cannot honestly say. Only you, in the last analysis, by a process of
your own trial and error, can sensibly answer that question.
If we can't tell you how to be happy, can we tell you how not to be unhappy? Paradoxically, yes. Because while human beings differ enormously
in what brings them positive contentment, they are remarkably alike in

69

70 A Guide To Rational Living


what makes them miserable. And we, as psychologists who have worked
with many miserable people, can tell you almost to a T just what you are
doing to make yourself unhappy-and how to stop doing it.
Are we contending, you may ask, that all unhappiness is illegitimate and
unnecessary? No, not quite. Merely that almost all human pain, suffering,
misery, and discontent are superfluous. Almost? Yes. The only-and we
mean the only-sustained unhappiness that we accept as legitimate or justifiable is that which is the direct result of physical pain. All other sustained, intense, and repetitive unhappiness, we contend, is needless.
"Oh, come now!" you may protest. "You don't mean to say, Drs. Ellis and
Harper, that if my mother dies, or my wife leaves me, or I lose a fine job that
I want very much to keep-you don't mean to say that even then I don't
need to be unhappy?"
But we do mean exactly that. No matter what happens to you, with the
exception of prolonged, intractable physical pain, we do not think it necessary for you to remain unhappy for more than a very short while. For a
minute or two, yes, and in a mild sort of way for that minute or two: that
we'll concede. But if for more than a short time you are intensely depressed
because some dreadful or seemingly dreadful thing has happened to you
then you are indubitably, without a shadow of a doubt, illegitimately unhappy.
"Really? You're really serious about that?"
Yes-really, we most certainly are. Because, we insist, what is generally
called mental, emotional, or spiritual unhappiness is nothing but a state of
mind, an arbitrary definition; and because it is brought on by your telling
yourself silly, illogical, self-defeating sentences, you can bring virtually all
of it to a swift halt by telling yourself intelligent, logical, self-reconstructive sentences.
"Really? Really!!?"
Yes, really. But before you split a gut in your incredulity, perhaps we had
better do a little solid defining of the terms "happy" and "unhappy." Then
perhaps you may not think us so crazy as we at first seemed to be.
The dictionary loosely and generally defines the term unhappy as: sad;
miserable; wretched; sorrowful. We believe that this definition tells only
half the real story. What unhappiness, or at least acute unhappiness,
actually seems to consist of is: (a) a feeling of sadness, sorrow, irritation,
annoyance, or regret at not getting what one wants or at getting what one
does not want; and (b) a second and more important feeling of terrible injustice or great anxiety because one has not got what one wants and has experienced feeling (a) in connection with not getting it.
We distinguish, in other words, between normal and relatively mild feelings of frustration or loss on the one hand and abnormal and deep seated
THE ART OF NEVER BEING DESPERATELY UNHAPPY

feelings of pain or anguish at one's feelings of frustration or loss on the


other hand. We think that it is humanly normal to be moderately dejected
at the loss of a desired or loved person or thing; but abnormal (albeit statistically most common) to be depressed at the same loss. We also hold that
it is perfectly sane for a man or woman to be moderately annoyed by a frustrating set of circumstances; but by no means sane for the same individual
to be inordinately angry at the same set of frustrations.
Whereas dejection is an expectable response to a distinct loss, depression
is, in addition, intense dejection about being dejected. Similarly, as was
pointed out in the book, How to Live with a Neurotic, it is perfectly proper,
in many instances, for a human being to be annoyed at not getting what he
wants, when he becomes annoyed at being annoyed he tends to fall into an
overly-reactive, neurotic pattern of behavior.
If by unhappiness, then, is meant intense, prolonged, or quite frequent
feelings of mental or emotional discomfort, and particularly of any of the

71

many forms of anxiety and anger, then we believe that this kind of un-happiness is unnecessary for human beings to experience. And that they need
never-well, practically never-be unhappy in this manner if they understood what they usually do to create their own anguish and if they stopped
doing these things. If human beings conducted their lives with consistent
intelligence, they would have many different kinds of experiences; would
enjoy some and dislike others; would keep seeking the experiences they enjoy and calmly avoiding those they do not enjoy; and, finally, when they
could not avoid certain unpleasant experiences-such as the death of someone they dearly love-would still calmly accept the fact that life holds certain inevitable un-pleasantries and frustrations and that that is too badbut it is not terrible, atrocious, or catastrophic.
Having said this, let us immediately emphasize that we do not believe
that any human being can, for any length of time, be perfectly or completely or ecstatically happy. The frenetic search for a perfect anything, in
fact, almost inevitably dooms the searcher to severe frustration and violent
unhappiness. And humans are just not the kind of animals who can be perfect in virtually any ways-especially perfectly happy. Because of their
normally fluctuating and often rhythmically pulsating physical and psychological experiences, they are subject to literally hundreds of irritations,
pains, ills, diseases, states of ennui, conditions of tension, and other discomfort-producing situations. Many of their mental-emotional handicaps,
as we endeavor to show in this book, can be largely overcome or diminished.
Largely, but not completely.
Sustained negative emotion, for example, can almost always be tackled
and appreciably conquered. But it can be effectively tackled largely because it is sustained and because there is sufficient time to think about it,

72 A Guide To Rational Living


track it back to its origins, and contradict the thinking which one (consciously or unconsciously) employed to create and sustain it. Evanescent
negative feelings, on the other hand, cannot as easily be tackled, simply
because they are fleeting and may not be around long enough to analyze
and unravel.
Even the battle against sustained psychological pain is never entirely
won. When you are unhappy because of some silly idea and you analyze
and eradicate this idea, it rarely stays away forever but instead keeps recurring from time to time and has to be re-analyzed and forcibly subdued
repeatedly. You may have the ridiculous notion, for instance, that you cannot live without some friend's approval and may be making yourself immensely miserable because you believe this rot. Then, after much hard
thinking, you may finally scotch this notion and convince yourself that it is
quite possible for you to live satisfactorily without your friend's approbation. Eventually, however, you are most likely to discover that, quite spontaneously, you from time to time revive the groundless notion that life is
valueless without the approval of this-or some other-friend. And once
again you have to go to work to beat this self-defeating idea out of your
skull.
Let us hasten to note that the task of de-propagandizing yourself from
your own self-defeating beliefs usually becomes easier and easier if you persist. If you consistently ferret out and contradict most of your mistaken
philosophies of life, you will soon begin to find that their influence is
weaker; and, eventually, some of them almost entirely lose their power to
harrass you. Almost. For the day may well come when, if only for a brief
time, the same idiotic thought with which you once drove yourself crazy
again returns and has to be forcibly reanalyzed and overcome.
Some of the major ideas that cause severe emotional disturbance, then,
are exceptionally powerful; because, biologically, humans tend to think in
these particular silly ways; and because, Socially, they live in the kind of
communities that encourage them to think irrationally.
Take, by way of illustration, the idea of the necessity of outstanding success or achievement. Quite possibly, there is some innate tendency of many
or most humans to try to be outstanding in their accomplishments: to strive
to be the fastest runner, or the best gardener, or the highest mountain
climber. As White has ably shown, the drive to master other people and
things is most deep-seated in normal people. And, considering what advantages such a drive may well have for individual (though not necessarily
group) survival, it is easy to conceive it as being partly inherited.
To this possibly innate tendency, we need only add the deliberately
taught competitiveness which most (though not all) communities inculcate
in their citizens and the result will easily be the overwhelming achievement
THE ART OF NEVER BEING DESPERATELY UNHAPPY

73

drives which we actually witness in the majority of people reared in most


cultures. Under these circumstances, it is easy to see why, if a person reared
in a competitive society becomes unhappy because he cannot live up to his
own perfectionistic demands for success, and if he begins to think about
and question his own (and his society's) standards, he will thereby be rationally challenging and fighting against characteristics or attitudes which
are deeply ingrained in his "nature," and which he will have considerable
difficulty changing or eradicating.
Difficult, however, does not mean impossible. Of course, it is difficult
for people to think and to act rationally in an irrational world. Of course it
is hard for them to reason their way out of circumstances in which they
have been unreasonably bogged down for many years. All right, so it's
difficult. But it's also difficult for a blind man to learn to read Braille, a victim of polio to use his muscles again, or a perfectly normal person to
swing from a trapeze, learn ballet dancing, or play the piano well. So it's

difficult! But it still can be done.


Many critics of a rational approach to living also object that it is "unnatural" to expect a human being to be consistently rational-that this is
simply not the nature of the beast. And these critics are not entirely wrong.
For it is to some extent "unnatural" for people who are born and reared
with many irrational tendencies to make consistent use of their reasoning
powers to overcome these tendencies.
However-and let us not for a moment forget-it is also "unnatural" for
people to wear shoes, employ contraceptives, study foreign languages, drive
cars, and do hosts of other things that they were obviously not born to do,
and that in many instances contradict their early upbringing. So it is "unnatural." The real question is: How sane is the individual who rigidly
sticks only to perfectly "natural" behavior?
I shall always remember the young and potentially attractive female who
was referred to me (A.E.) by her boyfriend because she refused to take
practically any care of her body or her physical appearance and was, at
the age of 23, already showing serious signs of overweight, flabbiness, and
esthetic decrepitude. When I asked her why she didn't take better care of
herself even though her boyfriend (whom she said she loved and very
much wanted to marry) was quite displeased with her appearance and
kept threatening to leave her if she did not do something about it, she said:
"But would that really be honest? Should I pretend, with lovely clothes
and makeup and stuff like that, that I'm more beautiful than I really am?
Would that be being true to myself-or to him? Wouldn't he know, actually,
that I didn't look the way I looked on the surface, and wouldn't he resent
me all the more? If he can't accept me this way, without the elegant clothes

74 A Guide To Rational Living


and makeup routine, if he can't accept me the way I am, what kind of love
does he really have for me anyway?"
I did my best to show this girl that, quite apart from her boyfriend and
his opinion of her looks, there might well be several reasons why she herself would want to look neater and take care of her body. Reasons of health,
for instance; and of her own esthetic feelings when she looked in a mirror;
and of the vocational advantages in the profession for which she was training.
To no avail. She kept returning to the themes of how artificial, how unnatural, how dishonest it would be for her to try to appear to be what she
really wasn't. I came within a hair of irrationally angering myself and telling her what she could do with her goddam feelings of "integrity"-such as
getting herself to a nunnery and be done with it.
Reason, however, prevailed. I reminded myself for the twentieth time that
she was not a louse but merely a very mixed-up, defensive girl who, out
of severe underlying fright, stubbornly held to her untenable, self-contradictory position because she desperately felt that she could not let go of it.
I also told myself that even if I failed utterly to change her self-sabotaging
philosophies, my value as a human being was in no way at stake: I would
merely have one more good, if alas unsuccessful, try under my belt; and I
might even learn something from my "defeat." So back I went to the therapeutic fray.
"Look," I said, "you're too intelligent a girl to really believe this kind of
hogwash that you keep handing yourself and handing me."
"What do you mean, hogwash?" she asked rather belligerently.
"Just what I said, h-o-g-w-a-s-h. And you know, to some extent, what I
mean already. I can see by the somewhat phony way in which you lift your
eyebrows. But, to be more explicit, what I mean is this. You keep saying
that you cannot do anything artificial and unnatural to make yourself look
better, because that would be dishonest, that wouldn't be cricket. Right?"
"Yes, that's just what I keep saying-and what, whether you think so or
not, I mean."
"Perhaps so; but I'm not so sure. Just let's take your argument, for a moment, to its logical extremes, to see whether it will hold up. You won't use
makeup or proper clothing because that's unnatural, you say. All right.
How about drinking glasses, knives, forks, spoons, and other eating uten- .
sils. Aren't they unnatural?"
"Well, in a sense, yes. But not in the sense I mean."
"You mean not in the nonsense you mean. But what 'sense' are you talking about? What do you mean?"
Of course, she couldn't tell me. She reverted to saying again, in a vague
THE ART OF NEVER BEING DESPERATELY UNHAPPY

and circumlocutory manner, that it just wasn't right and natural to make
herself look well or physically healthful; but that, somehow, it was still right
and natural for her to use knives, forks, and spoons. I saw she was getting
nowhere, so I interrupted:
"Look: why do you keep handing me this nonsense? Why don't we try, instead, to discover why you are not being consistent in your use of the words
right and natural, and why you keep insisting that helping yourself with
one device, such as wearing glasses, is OK, but that helping yourself with
another device, such as suitably tailored clothes, is not OK. As I said before,
you're a very bright girl. Now surely there must be some reason why you
are being so inconsistent. What is it?"
She at first kept insisting that she was not being inconsistent. But I
wouldn't buy that and kept showing her how inconsistent she was. I talked
as if her inconsistency was a fact, not a debatable question, and said I
would only discuss with her why and not whether it existed. She finally

75

seemed willing to discuss the whys of her self-contradictions; so I said:


. "Don't think that I am trying to convince you that there are only abnormal
or pathological reasons for your inconsistency. This, alas, is a trick of many
psychotherapists of different orientations, who practically insist that everything a patient does must be for the wrong reasons. In rational therapy,
however, we make it a habit to look for some of the normal reasons why
people may be doing the wrong things and thereby defeating their own
ends."
"So if I am inconsistent about refusing to use artificial aids to improve
my looks, you think that I may have some normal, as well as abnormal, reasons for being so?"
"Right. Let's take a fairly obvious normal reason. You said before that if
your boyfriend cannot accept you the way you are, without artificial aids,
what kind of love does he really have for you? Well, that's at least partly
true, isn't it? For if he only loves you because of the things you do to make
yourself look beautiful, his love will tend to be decidedly superficial and
probably unenduring; and you may well say to yourself: Who needs that
kind of love?"
"Yes-who needs it?"
"Right. Therefore, it is perfectly sane of you to question how far you
should go to make yourself look beautiful, so that he may possibly love you
for your looks. And that reason for your refusing to use artificial beauty aids,
while at the same time using eyeglasses or forks and knives, is a normal
reason. But when you take this same reason and exaggerate it, so that you
refuse to use beauty aids for your own esthetic and health satisfactions,
you are turning to abnormal reasons for what then becomes a gross in-

76 A Guide To Rational Living


consistency in your behavior. And we must then look for possible abnormal
reasons for your self-inconsistency."
"Such as?"
"Such as your terrible underlying fear that if you did try to keep yourself
looking well, you might still fail, since you may believe that you really
are ugly, no matter how you fix yourself up; or that you might succeed in
looking well and still fail to marry your boyfriend since he might dislike
you in spite of your good looks."
"But isn't it true that I may not be good looking to my boyfriend, no matter what I do? And that I may look fine to him and still ultimately be rejected by him?"
"Oh, certainly. Of course those things are true. It's always true that we
may do our very best to win someone's approval or to achieve some goal,
and that we may nonetheless fall on our faces and miserably fail to get what
we go after. So what?"
"But wouldn't that be a terrible thing for me, if I dieted, and wore the
right clothes, and otherwise fixed myself up and still lost my boyfriend?"
"It most certainly would not be a terrible thing-unless you insisted on
making it so. It would be inconvenient, of course, or frustrating, or a sad
thing for you to lose your boyfriend. But why would it be terrible? Would
you die of it? Would the ground open and swallow you up? Would you be
unable to get another boyfriend or to do other enjoyable things in life even
if you did not have another suitable male replacement?"
"I don't know. I don't know what Id be able to do if I really lost John."
"That's exactly the point: that's your sickness. You believe, quite wrongheadedly but still most definitely, that it would be terrible to lose John, that
you wouldn't know what to do if you lost him. And by having this belief, by
translating a nuisance and a frustration into a terrible catastrophe, you
actually bring that very catastrophe about. By believing you can't live successfully without John, you make certain that you really can't."
"And because I believe it would be terrible to lose John, and know that
I may lose him no matter what I do with myself physically, I deliberately
shy away from doing much to keep him-is that what you mean? I give up
on getting him in advance, so that I will not suffer the torments of the
damned later on?"
"Exactly. You quite sanely want John-because we'll assume that he's a
great guy and is pretty well suited to you. Then you insanely tell yourself
that because you want him you must have him, and would be destroyed
if you did not. Then you 'logically' give up trying for him in advance, so as
not to be hurt later. Or, more specifically, you set up exceptionally difficult rules of the game-that is, your refusal to try any beauty aids on the
THE ART OF NEVER BEING DESPERATELY UNHAPPY

supposition that if he still loves you in spite of these almost impossible


rules, he will later love you forever and never leave you."
"But is that so crazy?"
"Yes-because it practically never will work. It's like being afraid that
your maid will bring back the wrong groceries from the store and therefore demanding that she have a Ph.D. degree in home economics before you
hire her. What are your chances of ever finding anyone with a Ph.D. in
home economics who will be willing to work as your maid for a regular
maid's salary?"
"I see what you mean. I'd have no chance of finding such a maid, however desirable it might be to have one. And similarly I have practically no
chance to win the love of my boyfriend if I keep making these unreasonable demands on him?"
"Right. So instead of changing his characteristics, so as to retain your
own neurotic demand for absolute love from him, would you not better

77

think carefully about and work hard to change your own sick needs for total
love security?"
"Hmmm, I never saw it that way before."
"But thats what emotional disturbance is: not seeing that you are taking an initially normal wish for approval (and a desire to be approved for
less superficial characteristics than good clothes or a trim figure) and turning these into an abnormal demand for approval and a refusal to do anything to win it. Think about this some more and I am sure that you will see
it more clearly."
And she did think about it some more; began to diet and take care of
her appearance; and started to get along much better with her boyfriend.
The main point of this case, as with so many other cases of disturbed individuals, is that it is both normal and abnormal, natural and artificial for
human beings to be reasonable or unreasonable. We are, we humans, intelligent and stupid, thinking and suggestible; and therefore, although it is
easy, almost automatic, for us to strive to be rationally behaving animals, it
is just as easy for us to fail, at least in part, to reach our goal. Rational living, like all aspects of life, is a process, an ongoing attempt, an experiment;
it is hardly a product or a final result.
Stated differently: human adults are predisposed to act, at times, in immature, childish manner. That is one of the essences of their humanity:
fallibility. Because they are what they are, they find it exceptionally easy to
be, on many-occasions, unthinking, prejudiced, and consequently severely
over or under-emotional.
But the fact that human beings find it easy to be childish does not mean
that they must be. They can teach themselves to be fairly consistently mature, thinking, reflective. If they do, they will never reach the state, in all,

78 A Guide To Rational Living


probability, in which they are completely, consistently happy; nor ever the
state where they are never in any way unhappy.
They can, nonetheless, finally, with much work and effort, train themselves to be never-well, practically never-intensely miserable for any
sustained period of time. What more can one reasonably ask?

Tackling
Dire Needs
10 for Approval

SEVERAL POWERFUL, IRRATIONAL and illogical ideas stand in the way of


our leading anxiety-free, unhostile lives. One of the greatest of these-which
we shall label Irrational Idea No. 1- is the idea that it is a dire necessity

for an adult to be loved or approved by almost everyone for virtually everything he does.
"But," you may quickly interject, "do not most psychologists and psychotherapists keep insisting that human beings need approval and that
they cannot possibly be happy unless they get a good degree of it?"
Yes, they do. And they are wrong; or, at least, careless in their formulations. Humans almost always desire approval and almost all of them would
be considerably less happy and effective if they received none of it. In
modem society, moreover, most people could hardly survive at all if they
did not get some approval or (at a minimum) lack of disapproval from their
fellows. For otherwise who would rent or sell them living quarters, provide
them with food, or furnish them with clothing?
. Nonetheless, adults do not really need the love or approval of others. In
its strict definition, need is derived from the Middle English word, nede,
the Anglo-Saxon, nead, and the Indo-European term, nauto--which mean
to collapse with weariness (seen also in the Gothic term, naus, or corpse).
Its main meaning in English is: necessity; compulsion; obligation; something that is requisite for life and happiness.
Since it is quite possible for a human being to live in isolation for many
years without dying or even feeling terribly unhappy, and since it is also
79

80 A Guide To Rational Living


possible for him to live in a social group for several decades without becoming disturbed because all or most members of his group do not approve
or love him, it is obvious that some persons do not need to be accepted by
others. Indeed, there even seem to be a few individuals who do not want
to be approved by others. But almost all of these are probably being defensive and do want some kind of approval from their fellowmen' even when
they are contending that they do not.
Scientific and personal observations seem to sustain the hypothesis that
virtually all humans who are raised in social groups do want, prefer, or desire acceptance and caring from some of their fellows and that they will
tend to be happier and more productive people if they obtain some measure of the approval they seek. But wants, preferences, and desires are still
not needs or necessities. We would like our physical and mental cravings to
be fulfilled; but we do not really need them to be.
Considerable confusion in regard to human needs has arisen in psychological writings because the requirements of children and adults have
been confounded. Children, for fairly obvious reasons, actually need approval and love, especially from their parents, if they are to thrive healthfully and happily. Not that they will necessarily wither away if they are
disapproved or unloved; for as Orlansky (1949), Peller (1938), Sewell
( 1955), and other recent psychological and sociological writers have
shown, they will not. But they are literally dependent on the adults around
them, and cannot ordinarily be sufficiently provided with food, clothing,
shelter, health-protection, and other necessities of life if no adult cares for
them or in some manner loves them.
Children, again, cannot too easily protect themselves against the verbal
criticism of others. If their companions and caretakers keep telling them
that they are wrong and worthless, they cannot too easily say to themselves:
"Oh, that's just their opinion," or "Who cares what they think? I know I'm
not worthless." Consequently, children suggestibly accept the negative
views of others about themselves and are often seriously psychologically
maimed by their own acceptances of these views.
Adults, however, are not children and need not act as if they were. If
others around them do not sufficiently care for their physical and healthdemanding needs, they can usually manage somehow to shift for themselves and do something about begging, borrowing, or stealing adequate
subsistence. And if others savagely criticize or reject them, they can stop
and ask themselves, "Why did Jones say I was worthless? What was his
motive in saying so? Is he an accurate observer?"
Even when adults agree that perhaps Jones is right about his criticisms
of them, they can still protect themselves against his attack by saying to
themselves several self-preserving sentences, including:

81 Tackling Dire Needs for Approval


1. 'Well, maybe Jones finds me pretty bad, but Smith and Rogers seem
to like me well enough. So I can associate with them if Jones won't have
me."
2. "Perhaps both Jones and Smith don't like the way I do things; and
perhaps they are right when they say I am inefficient for acting in this manner. But I still think my way is best and most enjoyable for me and I would
rather be enjoying myself than be efficient in the ways they would like me
to be."
3. "Maybe Jones and Smith are correct in showing me that I'm a woefully bad tennis player, and maybe I would better, for my own good, learn
how to play better. In case, however, I never become the best tennis player
in the world, that still is no crime and I need not consider myself worthless=but merely a poor tennis player."
4. "Perhaps Jones and Smith are quite right about my not understanding
music. Why not admit to them, then, that I am wrong, and see if they will
help me understand it better, so that I may enjoy myself more with it."
In many ways such as these an adult may accept the disapproval of
others, make allowances for it, do something about it, and consequently
come off relatively unscathed. He may never learn to like disapprobation or
negative criticism; but he may definitely learn to tolerate it and to use it for
his own good.
Earl Thames was an unusually intelligent man of forty-five. A great deal
of his energies, as he indicated when I (R.A.H.) saw him for psychotherapy,
had always been devoted to gaining the love of others.
His widowed mother had praised him, indulged him, and led him to believe that he was so special and wonderful that he deserved the very best in
life. Because he had considerable ability and charm, it was not difficult for
him to get the same kind of admiration from his classmates, teachers, and
(later on) business associates. At first!
The trouble came later. After first winning their approval, Earl would
find that people-of course-had other things to do in life than to continue
telling him what a lovely, lovely fellow he was. Their initial enthusiasms
for him would naturally wane. Whereupon, feeling desperately rejected, he
would come around waving some new accomplishment, witticism, or kind
sacrifice to try to jog their tiring devotions. These sacrifices at the altar of
love, when they worked at all, also had short-lived effects. In time, people
became too tired or busy or (eventually) plain bored with Earl to give him
the sort of effusive appreciation that his mother had endlessly bestowed.
When he noticed this, Earl would go into a rage, roundly condemn his associates for their stupidity, inhumanity, lack of sensitivity, and run off to
acquire a new and presumably more appreciative set of friends. Between the ages
of 25 and 40, Earl didn't do so badly with his field-run-

82 A Guide to Rational Living


ning and managed to go through three wives and innumerable business and
personal associates. Then mama died, leaving him a considerable fortune,
and he began to fail worse than ever in business and to drink heavily. He
ran through most of his money in highly speculative deals, approval-seeking philanthropies, and bad management associated with his drinking
sprees. In the past, when other people withheld approval or things went
wrong in any way, he always had mama to help him and reassure him that
he was a perfectly wonderful boy. Now he had nothing but the anesthetic
provided by alcohol.
When a physician who specializes in the treatment of alcoholics referred
this patient to me for psychotherapy, Earl put on one of his typically brilliant charm dances for me. Even when desperately seeking help, he knew
not how to relate to anyone in any other way. Believing fully and intensely
that he must, that he absolutely needed to be loved, admired, applauded,
approved by each new associate, he applied the same standards to me as to
the others and did his boyish handsprings in precisely the same manner that
he had been doing them for almost forty years.
Some psychotherapists that I know would doubtlessly have reacted to
Earl's help-seeking dance just the way he wanted, and could have mightily
striven to give this pitiful middle-aged man who "needed" love exactly
what he "needed." For the next five to ten years they might well have coddled and suckled him to make him feel "really" wanted and approved, on
the theory that they would thereby finally get him over his desperate demands for approval and enable him to stand on his own two feet. I doubt
whether they would ever have succeeded; for Earl, as many other sick people like him, was a bottomless pit who would accept all possible degrees
of extended loving and caring and still keep himself open for more.
My psychotherapeutic view and reaction was radically different. Feeling that Earl "needed" love like he needed a hole in his head, and that giving him more approval and affection would only have served to reinforce
his silly notion that he did have such a dire "need," I gave him nothing of
the sort. Instead, I calmly and quickly told him the facts of life, very strongly
insisted that he did not need approval and that he was able to live without
it, and ruthlessly exposed to him the sad results of his campaign of the last
two decades to con others into caring for him.
Earl fought like the dickens. He quoted psychological scripture to indicate that he did need approval. He got the physician who referred him to
pressure me for not treating him gently enough. He kept threatening to
leave therapy and go back to the bottle. He pulled every stop in the organ
to show me what a heartless cur I was and how I would, doubtless,'delight
in exploiting helpless widows and orphans. No sale. I was adamant; and
on one occasion said:
TACKLING DIRE NEEDS FOR APPROVAL

"It's no use. It won't work. Maybe I am the heartless dog you keep accusing me of being. Maybe I beat my wife every night and take candy from
little babies. But that's my problem. Your problem is that you still think
you need love when, like most of us, you want it. And you think you need it
because you're such a helpless slob, who can't take care of himself, without
it. Well, you are a helpless slob, let's face it. And you're one because you believe 'you are and because you think that love and love alone will save you
from slobbery worse than death.
Well, it won't. I wish I could really get someone in your own life, not
me, but someone you live with- to love you the way you want to be loved:
just to show you that it won't work. For you'd still, under those circumstances, feel you were a slob. And, not having done anything for yourself
in life, you'd never have shown that you could help yourself and you'd still

83

feel helpless.
"But the hard and cold fact is, whether you like it or not, that you're
probably never going to get anyone to love you the way you want them to.
And even if you did, you'd then become woefully afraid that he or she
might later die, or leave you, or love you less than before-so you'd still be
terribly anxious and upset. No, there's only one possible thoroughgoing
solution to your problem. And that is, of course, that you give up the idea
that you must be approved or loved by others in order to deem yourself
worthwhile in your own right. And if you refuse to give up this idea, you'll
merely go on drinking, running your affairs into the ground, and doing
other things that terribly anxious people inevitably do.
"So it's your choice. Either keep thinking that you must be loved-and
defeat yourself royally. Or start believing that, however nice it is to be approved by others, it is not necessary-and then have a chance to rebuild
your bollixed-up existence. It's your life-choose!"
Earl was a difficult patient; and it took many more sessions and many
more attempts at forcing him to choose between his dire need for love and
effective living. It was hard work, but we (he and I) made it. At last report, two years after I first saw him, he is no longer an alcoholic, is managing his business affairs well, and for the first time in his life has found a
feminine partner whom he loves rather than one who merely cares for him.
Was not Earl Thames an extreme case of an individual who needed to be
loved and approved? Yes, somewhat extreme. But he sharply and accurately illustrates the love-need theme that runs through the lives of millions
of people. Even when these people experience this need in a less extreme
form it can cause them considerable misery.
Why is it illogical for anyone to insist that he be approved by all those
who are important to him? For several reasons:
1. To try to be loved by virtually everyone you consider important sets

84 A Guide To Rational Living


up a perfectionistic, unattainable goal. Even if you get ninety-nine people
to love you, there will always be the hundredth, the hundred and first, and
soon.
2. Even if you demand love from a limited number of people, you cannot usually win the approval of all of them. Some of those whose love you
seek will, because of their own limitations, have little ability to love anyone.
Others will disapprove of you for reasons entirely beyond your control
(such as the fact that your eyes are brown instead of blue). Still others will
be prejudiced against you for all time because of some initial mistake you
made with them, or for various other reasons.
3. Once you are over-concerned with being loved, you inevitably will
begin to worry about how much and how long desired individuals will
approve you. Granted that your second cousin or your boss cares for you,
does he really love you enough? And if he does, will he continue to love you
tomorrow and the day or year after? With thoughts like these, your anxieties about being loved are bound to be endless.
4. If you are always to be loved by those you seek, you must be always
distinctly lovable. But who is? Even when you usually have lovable traits
(such as a sweet disposition) how can you retain them at all times for all
people?
5. If you could, theoretically, always win the approval of those whose
love you "need," you would have to spend so much time and energy doing
so that you would have little time left for other pursuits. Striving ceaselessly to be approved means living your life for what others think and want
you to do rather than for your own goals. It also usually means youre playing
the patsy and buying other's approval at the expense of selling your own
soul and losing your self-respect. The more you desperately need others'
love, the less you will tend to do what you really want to do in life.
6. Ironically enough, the greater your need for being loved, the less people will tend to respect and care for you. Even though they like your catering to them, they will tend to despise your weakness and to cease to find
you admirable. Also, by desperately trying to win people's approval, you
may tend to annoy and irritate them, to bore them to distraction, and again
become less desirable to them.
7. Being loved, once you achieve it, tends to be boring and onerous, since
the individual who loves you often makes inroads on your time and energy.
Actively loving someone else is a creative and absorbing act. But the dire
need to be loved seriously blocks loving and minimizes its experiences.
Perversely, it is probably the most loving-destroying of all activities, since
most individuals who demand intense and sustained love from others have
little time and energy to devote to being truly absorbed in the growth and
development of those on whom they make their demands.
TACKLING DIRE NEEDS FOR APPROVAL

8. The dire need for love is almost always a cover-up for feelings of severe
worthlessness. The full sentence that the individual who has this overwhelming need is usually telling himself is: "I must be loved because I am
a worthless, incompetent individual who cannot possibly get along in this
world by fending for myself; therefore I need to be succored and cared for
by others." In desperately seeking to be loved, this individual frequently
covers up his underlying feeling of worthlessness and does nothing whatever to tackle them: namely, to prove to himself that he can be self-sufficient
and self-caring. The more he succeeds in his seemingly benign but actually
nefarious purpose of being greatly loved, the less he will tend to cure himself of his terribly sick notion that he cannot be himself and get much of
what he really wants in life.
In view of the foregoing reasons, it would seem that the intelligent or rational-creative approach to life should not include the goal of being madly
or inordinately loved by practically everyone you consider desirable; but,

85

instead, that of trying to love yourself and to become vitally absorbed in


people, things, and ideas outside yourself.
, Respecting yourself and being devoted to people and things outside yourself are to a considerable degree reciprocal aims. For if you really love yourself and are not overly-concerned about what others think of you, you will
have so little time to spend in worrying or being "self-centered" (which
really means other-directed) that you will be virtually forced to find absorbing interests on the outside. By the same token, if you throw your energies into outside activities and actively devote yourself to other people and
things, you normally will tend to be little concerned about what others
think of you and, hence, to like yourself.
Put somewhat differently, a person who is devoting himself enthusiastically to long-range hedonism-that is, to activities that he considers desirable and enjoyable from a long-term perspective-cannot help respecting himself: because he is what he really wants to be and is not falsely
being what someone else thinks he should be. To be is essentially to be
oneself: to do what one likes (without ultimately defeating one's longrange ends).
Our patients and associates frequently ask: "I can see that concentrating
on loving myself rather than on desperately needing the love of others is a
more realistic orientation. But how is this going to help me love other people? As I become less and less concerned about whether others approve
of me, won't I find it more and more troublesome and unnecessary to give a
damn about others-to relate lovingly to them?"
The answer is: No, for several reasons. First of all, if you direly need
love, you will tend to be so preoccupied with obtaining it that you have as

86 A Guide To Rational Living


much chance to love yourself or others as a dope addict has to relate freely
and self-confidently to the person who supplies him with drugs.
Secondly, if you surrender your dire need for love, you will still retain, in
most instances, a strong desire for acceptance by others. People often
wrongly assume that to say one does not direly need to be loved is the same
thing as saying that being loved is for the birds. Not at all. You can easily
enjoy and keep attending well-written and beautifully-acted plays even
though you do not need to do so to go on living. Why can you not, then,
enjoy and seek love relationships without believing that your life depends
on them?
Thirdly, when you are free from your own demands that you be loved,
you are in a much better position to love. You can see more clearly the lovable traits of others; stop hating them when they do not immediately respond to you; learn what you really enjoy in a love relationship; be able to
risk committing yourself to loving, even when you know that a given relationship may not work out perfectly; and feel un-anxiously free to experience and experiment with loving and to throw yourself more wholeheartedly and intensely into love relationships because you realize that although you may lose your beloved you can never lose yourself.
Another question that frequently is asked is: "Granted that loving is generally more rewarding than desperately trying to be loved, should I therefore try to give up all my desires for approval and recognition?"
Answer: Certainly not. Complete self-sacrificiality or the total surrender
of your own desires for approval can be just as sick as your being obsessed
with winning the esteem of others. Again for several reasons:
1. It is perfectly normal and pleasant for you to want to express your
own unique conceptions of the world to others and to want them to be
pleased with some of your expressions. You would hardly be a human animal if you did not derive some kind of satisfaction from relating to others,
including liking them and wanting them to like you.
2. Wanting to be accepted to some degree by others is one of the main
essences of desire; and human beings who are entirely free from desire
again do not appear to be entirely human. According to the Hindu classic,
the Bhagavad-Gita, the strongest individual is one who "is indifferent to
honor and insult, heat and cold, pleasure and pain. He is free from attachment." This may be, for a few select individuals, a worthy ideal; but it
is doubtful whether many humans could ever attain it. To lean so far over
backwards to get rid of your psychological pain that you also eradicate all
your pleasure does not seem too rational to us. By all means try, if you will,
to eliminate your extreme, unrealistic, self-defeating desire; but not desire
itself.
3. From a practical view, if you ardently want various good things in
TACKLING DIRE NEEDS FOR APPROVAL

life-such as material goods or more leisure-you simply have to win the


approval or respect of certain people, such as your parents, teachers, or
bosses. Even then, though you may wisely eliminate your inordinate or
overweening demands that others love you, you must sanely retain, in any
social group, some wishes to be accepted (and not actively interfered with)
by other group members.
Granted that having an inordinate need to be loved by others will only
serve to defeat your own ends, and that having some wish to be accepted
and approved by your associates and loved ones is eminently sane, the question arises: How can you somehow manage to attain a middle-of-the-road
policy and fulfillment in this respect?
First and foremost, by admitting that you do have a dire need to be loved
in many instances; by making a continual effort to observe this need in operation; and by then continually challenging, questioning, and contradicting it.

87

A good illustration of combating one's own inordinate love needs came


up recently in a group therapy session. Three young women in the group
brought up the fact, during this session, that they were woefully unhappy
because their husbands did not love them every minute of the day; and
whenever they discovered this fact again, one of them habitually became
depressed; the second became very angry at her husband and the whole
world; and the third young wife started looking around for possible lovers.
All these girls, after talking over their problems with the other group
members, admitted that they had a tremendous need to be loved. One of
them asked the group: "All right. Now what can I do about this to get over
my love needs and keep myself from becoming depressed when they are
not always being met?"
One of the males in the group quickly chimed in: "Oh, that's really very
easy. All you have to do is to see what you're doing to keep annoying your
husband, and to get him not to love you, and then stop doing these things.
Then he will really appreciate you and care for you much more than he
does-especially if you are being nice to him when he is not being so nice
to you."
"Oh, no," chimed in the second of the three girls, who was getting angry
whenever her husband didn't show great love for her, "that won't solve the
problem at all. If she or I or any of us only tries to be nicer to those who are
not loving us, even if we succeed in winning more love from them we don't
do anything for ourselves. We still go on needing, or thinking that we're
still needing, their love. And just as soon as they don't give it to us again,
we're right back in the soup, just where we started. So that plan won't work
at all."
"Right," said the girl who had asked the question. "I've tried that many

88 A Guide To Rational Living


times, and often have succeeded in getting Johnny to show more love for
me by being very nice to him. But it doesn't last. He still doesn't love me all
the time. And then I go right back into my dive. I agree with Phyllis that
that plan won't work at all."
"I can see what you mean," said the male who had answered the first girl.
"I guess I was wrong. Getting a better technique to induce people to love
you won't do the trick. You've got to not need them."
"What do you mean?" another male member of the group asked. "How
can you not need others?"
"That's a good question!" smiled the first male. "I'm not sure I can
answer it."
'Well, let me try," said the second girl. "You have to stop telling yourself that you do need others-isn't that it?"
"Can you be more specific?" asked still another group member.
"I think I can," she replied. "Let's see. I told you before that whenever
my husband looks at me cross-eyed, I tend to shrivel up and die-like and
then I get very angry at him. And sometimes, as Mabel said in regard to her
husband, I even start looking around for other men, though I know I'm not
really going to do anything about them. But I was really wrong when I said
that 'whenever: It used to be 'whenever.' It used to be that I'd always die
at first, and then be terribly angry when Jim gave me a dirty look or otherwise indicated he didn't love me at that exact second that I wanted to be
loved. But now it only happens once in a while. It's really much better now."
"And what did you do to make it better?" asked the first girl.
"Oh, yes. I nearly got lost there. That's what I started out to say. I used
to go through hell every time Jim wasn't right there with the ever-lovin'
spouse bit. But then, when he obviously wasn't caring much of a damn for
me at certain times, and I was beginning to feel my gorge rise, I started
saying to myself: 'All right. So he doesn't love me dearly right at this minute.
So what? Is the world going to come to an end? Do I really need his adoration and devotion every second of the day? Of course I don't! Sure, it would
be nice if he were always there, whenever I felt like his loving me up, or
something. But why can't I live without it when he isn't there? Goddam it,
I can!" And I found that I could. Not always, unfortunately. As I said before, I still at times get angry as hell when he isn't right there to pat me on
the head when I think I need it. But much less often than 1 used to get.
And, by God, 1 intend to make it still much less often in the future!"
"In other words," said the first male, "you now keep challenging and questioning your dire need for love, not all of the time, but at least often enough.
And that's the way you keep reducing it."
"Yes," she replied. "It's one heck of a hassle. But I keep challenging and
questioning."
TACKLING DIRE NEEDS FOR APPROVAL

And so it can be with you. If you do have a dire need to be loved; if you
accept the fact that you have it; and if you keep challenging, questioning,
and contradicting it, it will ultimately, and often quite quickly, start decreasing. For remember: It is your need; and only you can keep sustaining it.
Other methods you can use to combat and minimize your inordinate love
needs include the following:
1. Ask yourself what you really want to do in life, rather than what
others would like you to do; and keep asking yourself, from time to time:
"Am I doing this thing or refusing to do that because I really want it that
way? Or am I, once again, unthinkingly trying desperately to please others?"
2. In going after what you really want in life, take risks, commit yourself,
don't be afraid of making mistakes. Don't be needlessly foolhardy; but convince yourself that if you fail to get something you want, and people laugh
at or criticize you for your failure, that is their problem. As long as you learn

89

by your errors, what difference does it really make what they think?
3. Focus on loving rather than on being loved. Try to realize that vital
living hardly consists of passive receiving but of doing, acting, outgoing. And just as you can force yourself to play the piano, do Yoga breathing exercises, or go to work every day, you can also often forcibly commit
yourself to loving other human beings. In so doing, your dire needs to be
loved will almost inevitably decrease.
4. Above all, stop confusing being loved with personal worth. If human
beings have any intrinsic worth or value, they have it by virtue of their
mere existence, their being, rather than because of anything they do to
"earn" it (Hartman; Suzuki; Tillich). No matter how much you may be
approved by others, or how much they may value you for their own benefit, you do not add an iota of value to your own "worth" because of their
approval. You are "good" or "deserving" just because you are; and if you
can really believe this most important of human truths, you will find it
virtually impossible to be desperately in need of others' approval. Just as
importantly, too: If you can rid yourself of your dire need for approval, you
will find it relatively easy to accept yourself as "worthwhile" merely because you exist, because you are.
To underscore this last point about human worth, consider the case of
Herbert Flisch, a forty-year-old successful business man who recognized,
after eight sessions of rational-emotive psychotherapy, that almost every
single one :of his actions for the past four decades had been motivated by
his dire need to win the approval of his wife, children, friends, and even
employees. At his ninth session he asked:
"Do I understand you correctly to mean that if I stop trying to win
everyone's approval and do what I think I would like to do (and what

90 A Guide To Rational Living


would not at the same time defeat my own ultimate ends) that I'll then love
myself because I'll consider myself more worthwhile?"
"No," the therapist replied. "Those of us who have been working to develop this system of rational psychotherapy have come to realize that
worthwhileness is just as illegitimate a concept as its counterpart, worthlessness; and that, in fact, just as soon as you tend to think in terms of personal 'worth' you must almost automatically tend to think, at the same time,
in terms of personal 'worthlessness.'
"Thus, if you consider yourself 'worthwhile' today because you function
effectively, make wise decisions, or think bright thoughts, there is a good
chance that you will decide tomorrow that you are 'worthless' because you
then function less effectively, make some unwise decisions, or think dull
thoughts."
"But wouldn't I be worthless if I never functioned effectively?" asked
the patient.
"No, absolutely not. Even if you were mentally deficient or hopelessly
disturbed and never functioned well, you would then be extrinsically
'worthless'-meaning that others might not find you a suitable companion
or employee-but intrinsically, to yourself, you would be just as 'worthwhile' as any other more efficient individual. You would be, that is, if you
believed you would be. But if you believed, as you obviously do, that to be
inefficient is to be 'worthless,' then you would obviously feel and in a sense
be 'worthless'-or be what you believed you were."
"So I am worthwhile if I think I am-no matter how inefficiently I may
actually perform in life?"
"Yes-except that, as I said before, the very concept of 'worth' is a
dangerous one, since it always implies the concept of 'worthlessness.' It is
like the concept of heaven-which also implies the concept of hell. In fact,
the way we usually employ the terms, to be worthwhile really means pretty
much the same thing as to be angelic or heaven-directed; and to be worthless means to be demonic or hell-directed. Doesn't it?"
"In a way, I guess it does. I can see what you're driving at," said the
patient.
"Moreover, if you have the concepts of 'worth' and 'worthlessness,' even
if you avoid extreme self-designations in using these concepts you will
tend to become preoccupied with varying degrees of 'worth.' Thus, you
will tend to say to yourself: 'Today I am very worthwhile; yesterday I
was fairly worthwhile; I hope and pray tomorrow I can be more worthwhile than I am today.'
"This kind of concept of 'worth' (and, hence, lack of worth or less worth)
carries with it irrational and undesirable aspects of guilt, self-disrespect,
self-blame, shame, disappointment, anger, hostility and other negative
TACKLING DIRE NEEDS FOR APPROVAL

emotions. The counter-concept, that a human individual is neither worthwhile' because he is effective nor worthless' because he is ineffective, but
that he just is -this concept, difficult as it seems to be for anyone raised in
Western civilization to see and accept, is perhaps the only way of doing
away with the notion of intrinsic worthlessness' and self-blame."
"I'll have to give this some more thought," said the patient. But it does
seem to have something to it. However: how does it tie in with self-love?"
It has a most important tie-in with self-acceptance or self-love. For if
you view yourself existentially, as you are, you will almost automatically
accept yourself. Not because you are efficient, worthwhile,' or anything
else. But just because you exist, because you are alive. You will then try to
do the things that you enjoy rather than those that you do well though the
two, of course, may overlap."
You mean that I may then enjoy myself more and love myself and my
existence for its being more enjoyable. But that I still will not be more

91

'worthwhile'-only more alive, happier?"


Right. And you will not blame yourself or punish yourself wheneverbeing an imperfect human-you do something wrong or unwise. You will
accept yourself with your foolish thoughts, feelings, perceptions, or actions,
and use the learning that you get as a result of these unwise acts to help you
enjoy yourself more and behave more rationally in the future. What greater
love of self (and through love of self, potential love for other human beings)
could you then have?"

Eradicating
Dire
Fears
11 of Failure

IF HUMAN BEINGS were only overwhelmed with a dire need to be loved by


virtually everyone to whom they are attracted, they would have sufficient
woe to last them a lifetime. If they wish to be even sorrier creatures by far,
they can easily add one more idiotic notion to their existences: namely,
Irrational Idea No.2: The idea that one should be thoroughly competent,

adequate, and achieving, in all possible respects.


Several of our recent patients beautifully-and tragically-exemplify the
extreme fear of failure and of incompetence that is ubiquitous among members of our society. Patient A is a brilliant and talented woman who became
very proficient in solo activities, such as writing and composing music, but
refused to take part in any group experiences, for fear she would not be as
good as the other group members. In her writing and composing, moreover,
she rarely put anything down on paper, but restricted herself to composing
in her head: so that she need rarely take the risk of committing herself
fully.
Patient No.2, an exceptionally bright matron, was so afraid that she
would not be able to hold a suitable conversation with the guests at her own
house parties that she usually clammed up and said virtually nothing during
the whole evening. At other people's gatherings, however, where she did not
have the responsibility of being hostess, she conversed very well.
Patient No.3, a twenty-five year old physicist, never realized satisfaction
from his first orgasm when he had sex relations, since he was concentrating
only on how to prove to his partner how capable he was sexually. If he had

92
ERADICATING DIRE FEARS OF FAILURE

a second orgasm on the same evening he could enjoy that immensely-because he now felt that his adequacy was already proven.
Patient No.4, a thirty-year-old teacher, was terribly afraid that if she
went out on a date with a man someone might insult her and her date would
not defend her adequately from such an insult. If this happened (which, of
course, it never did) she was certain that she would be horribly humiliated
and would sink through the floor,
Patient No.5 was afraid to think for himself during the therapeutic sessions: because that, like so many other things he had tried, might end in
failure and he might not think too well. Therefore, he did not work at his
therapy.
These are typical examples of literally hundreds of individuals whom

93

we have seen, who are incredibly fearful that they will fail at some task
or goal, and who usually manage to avoid trying for what they want because they construe failure as the worst of all possible crimes. And we see
so many of these people not only because we are therapists to whom they
come for help, but because the world is full of them in every walk of life.
Just glance around you and you will soon see.
The notion that the value of a human being is directly proportional to his
accomplishment, and that if he is not thoroughly competent, adequate, and
achieving he might as well curl up and die, is highly irrational and selfdefeating, for several reasons:
1. It should be obvious to any thinking individual that no one can be
perfectly competent and masterful in most respects. Even Leonardo da
Vinci doubtlessly had many weak points and certainly the rest of us mortals
do. Trying to be outstanding in one field of endeavor is difficult, since millions of other individuals frequently compete with you in the same area;
and the goal of being generally successful in life is a perfectionistic ideal
that almost always dooms you to serious disappointment.
2. Achievement is not, except by arbitrary definition, related to your intrinsic worth. If you think you become "better" or "greater" because you
succeed at something, you may temporarily be happy in such an achievement. But you actually do not change your intrinsic value one iota by your
successes; nor do you lower your I-ness by your failures. You may become
happier, more efficient, or "better off" by achieving this or that goal; but
being 'better off" does not mean that you are a ''better person." As we must
keep insisting in this book, you are "good," "worthwhile," or "deserving,"
if you want to use these very poor terms, Simply because you exist, because
you are, because you have aliveness. To raise your "ego" by material or other
achievements really means falsely to think yourself 'better" than you previously were. Most of what we call "pride" in accomplishment is actually
false pride: the silly belief that you are worthless unless you are accomp-

94 A Guide To Rational Living


lished, and the equally silly belief that because you are now accomplished
you are "worthy."
3. Although accomplishment may bring you real advantages, fanatic devotion to the bitch-goddess success usually involves considerable discomfort. Those who are hell-bent on achievement commonly push themselves beyond their limits of physical endurance; tolerate or. invite painful
conditions that they would avoid if they were not so determined to succeed;
and rarely give themselves sufficient time to relax and enjoy what they are
doing, nor time to lead well-rounded existences. They also may literally
kill themselves with over-work.
4. The frantic struggle for achievement usually reflects one's dire need
to excel others: to show them that one is as good as or better than they are.
But you are not other people; and you will never be yourself if you keep
trying to be as good as or better than they. What have they really got to
do with you as far as comparisons go? If they are inferior to you in various
ways does that actually make you by one whit a better person? And if they
excel you in this or that activity, does that make you a louse or a no-goodnik? Only by magical notions in your own head are others related to your
you-ness or to your intrinsic value. And thinking magically that they are
thus related will only serve to make you hopelessly other-directed and
pathetically divorced from what you really want to do with your life.
5. If you inordinately strive for success and are terribly afraid of failing,
you will almost inevitably concomitantly fear taking chances, making mistakes, doing the wrong thing, or doing what you would really like to do in
life. By insisting on outstanding or perfect achievement, you will leave
yourself the pitifully narrow choice of (a) making mistakes and being
unhappy about them or (b) refusing to try to do many things for fear of
making mistakes and being unhappy about them. Having an unrealistically
high level of aspiration foredooms you not only to failure but to fear of
failing-which has more pernicious effects than failure itself.
One of the most common and most gruesome illustrations of the fear of
failure being worse than failure itself is well illustrated in patients with
impotency and frigidity problems who often come to see us. As we have
noted in our previous writings, The Art and Science of Love and Creative
Marriage, the original cause of failure in the case of an impotent male or a
frigid female can be one of a wide variety of events- such as, fatigue, illness, worry about some unrelated problem, lack of attraction to the sexual
partner, or fear of pregnancy. Not infrequently, however, the main cause
is a deep-seated feeling of inadequacy on the part of the sexually incompetent person which takes the form of the thought: "1 shall probably fail
because 1 am such an inadequate individual that 1 could not possibly succeed in this difficult and important task."
ERADICATING DIRE FEARS OF FAILURE

95

Whatever the original cause of a particular erectile failure in a man or


orgasm inadequacy in a woman, the anxious individual who first fails is
likely to have many subsequent failures because he or she fears failing. Thus,
an impotent male keeps saying to himself something like: "Oh, my God! I
failed the last time and I am afraid that I will fail again this time. And it will
be awful, embarrassing, dreadful and calamitous if I show my mate that I
am impotent again!"
Anyone, of course, who approaches a sexual relationship with such a
catastrophizing philosophy is extremely likely to find himself impotent.
First of all, he is focusing on his fears about his sexual inadequacy rather
than on sexually satisfying stimuli. Secondly, and worse still, he is specifically indoctrinating himself with the idea that he probably will not be able
to respond to sexual stimulation. He is thereby filling himself with dread
about the very situation to which he wants to respond in a relaxed, erotic,

enjoyable way. The effect is the same as if he sent ice water instead of warm
blood to the erectile tissue of his penis; and this organ, naturally, shrinks
from the dreadful situation he has produced.
How can this vicious circle be broken by the application of rational
thinking? Let me (R.A.H.) cite an example from my files. I was consulted
awhile ago, by a thirty-four-year-old office manager who kept losing his
erection with his wife, and to whom I described some of the causes of
impotency which have been discussed in the past few paragraphs. My
patient said:
"I know that my fear of failure is causing me to be impotent, but how can
I help being afraid? I don't want to fail. And I do think failure is awful. I
do feel inadequate for sure when I am trying to have intercourse with
Janie and can't even make an entry. I do think it is terrible, so how can I
tell myself that it isn't?
"But let's look at why it is terrible," I replied. "You have already told
me that you can satisfy Janie with manipulation of her clitoris and that she
seems relaxed and happy after achieving orgasm by this means. Is that
right?"
"Yes, that's right. But what about me? Where do I get my satisfaction?"
"Just a moment; we'll get to you soon enough. Anyway, whatever is
dreadful about this impotency business, as you see it, relates to your failure
to have complete satisfaction through intercourse? Is that it?"
"Well, that's not quite all. I don't like to have Janie think of me as impotent. And, darn it, I don't like to think of myself that way."
"Ah, so that's a little more than your merely regretting the loss of your
own satisfaction, isn't it? What you seem to be telling yourself is: 'Here I
am missing out on all the fun and satisfaction of sex and it is an awful pain
in the neck.' And that is a true sentence, since you are missing out on a good

96 A Guide To Rational Living


thing. But then you're also adding the highly false sentences: 'Janie will
doubtlessly think that I'm a pansy or something. And maybe I am a goddamn
latent homosexual! And wouldn't it be terrible if I were! What an awful
mess I am.' Isn't that what you're saying to yourself, something along those
lines?"
"That's about it."
'Well, if that's it, isn't the solution to your problem fairly obvious?"
"-Uh-well, I guess so. Stop saying the false sentences and keep telling
myself only the true ones. Is that right?"
"Exactly right. Stop telling yourself how awful, how dreadful it would be
if you failed sexually, and how that would make you into a homosexualwhich again would be a frightful thing. And go back to the true sentencethat you are missing most of the joy of sex-and work on correcting this
sentence by focusing on your wife and how pleasurable it is to be with her,
instead of how terrible it is to be impotent or to prove what a pansy you are."
"But what will I tell Janie, while I'm working on this? Shall I discuss it
with her too?"
"By all means. The next time you and Janie decide to get together sexually, tell her something like this: 'Look, dear. The psychotherapist I went to
see about my problem told me the trouble is strictly in my head. It consists of nonsense that I have been feeding myself. He says that what you
and I need to do is to take a more indirect approach to this sex business at
first. We would do better to forget coitus as the ultimate end and largely
concentrate on having fun with each other sexually. The idea is for us to
have a pleasurable experience and not care whether I do or don't have an
erection. You caress me in any way that seems fun to you and me, and Ill
fondle you in any way that seems enjoyable to both of us. And, as we've
been doing already, I'll make sure that you're always satisfied one way or
another. Then, he says, if we stop worrying about whether or not I'm going
to get a good erection, my body will almost certainly take care of itself and
soon I'll be more potent than I've probably ever been before. But the main
point is: whether or not I do achieve anything in coitus, we can still enjoy
the experience immensely. And if we concentrate 'On that, most of our problem will be solved."
"Well I hear what you're saying and it sounds good. But it also sounds
just a little bit crazy. Aren't we just kidding ourselves, Janie and I, if we
say that we don't give a damn whether or not I get an erection?"
"No, not really. As Janie has already demonstrated, she, like practically
all women, can have an orgasm even when you are not showing great
prowess sexually; and I am sure that you, too, can get a great deal of enjoyment even when you are not realizing your potential. Many of my patients, in fact, keep having enjoyable relations even though they do not
ERADICATING DIRE FEARS OF FAILURE

always have actual coitus. Granted that both you and Janie may well enjoy
yourself more if you are fully potent; but you can still satisfy each other
when you are not.
"The main point is that if you stop focusing on the necessity of copulating
well with Janie, and look upon doing so as a highly desirable thing instead,
the chances are at least a hundred to one that you soon will be perfectly
potent and will be able to have completely satisfactory intercourse. But
remember this: You must not take this approach insincerely and try to fool
yourself that you believe it. It is not likely to work if you falsely say to yourself. I will pretend to have fun in other ways since it will help me to get an
erection with which I can then have coitus, because it will be terrible if I
cannot eventually have coitus. You must really convince yourself, really
believe that it is not terrible if you never have coitus-merely that it is undesirable and inconvenient."
"So I must really show myself that even though I want coitus I don't need

97

it. I must convince myself that having fun, not copulating, is the main thing
in my sex relations with Janie."
"Right. If you focus on trying to have fun, you will almost certainly be
able to copulate. But if you focus on copulating, you may well not be able
to have any fun."
After this talk the patient had sex relations with his wife that very night,
had a long talk with her along the lines suggested by the therapist, and
simply tried to enjoy himself rather than to achieve potency. For the first
time in years, he not only did enjoy himself, but was able to maintain an
erection for twenty minutes and to have the most effective copulatory experience of his life.
The idea that one should be thoroughly competent, adequate, and
achieving in virtually all respects boils down to the notion that one should
be superhuman rather than human; and that is palpably a ridiculous dictate.
This inane idea, however, is remorselessly propagated in our homes, schools,
books, newspapers, movies, advertisements, songs, TV shows, and every
other medium of mass communication. Other cultures, too, have taught
their people that they should excel in various ways; but none, perhaps, to
the enormous degree to which we teach this nonsense to our people.
What, instead of believing this kind of balderdash, should the thinking
individual believe, and how should he act in regard to competence and
achievement?
First of all, we should say, the rational person should fully understand
that the only absolute requisite for a reasonably happy life is that he must
do rather than that he must do well. This is not to say that it is never desirable for an individual to do well. Often, it is; since by doing well you gain

98 A Guide To Rational Living


more of the goods, services, and favors in life than you gain by doing poorly.
And that is fine. But not necessary.
Enjoyment, then, rather than accomplishment is the more sensible goal
to seek in living. Often, the two are related: the better you play tennis, the
more you are likely to enjoy the game. But if you enjoy only what you do
well, then you are fairly obviously saying to yourself (a) "I like this activity
because it is my natural cup of tea," and (b) "I like it because I am proving
how much better I am than others in performing it."
While (a) is a perfectly legitimate sentence, (b) is not. The "ego-raising"
that you obtain from proving superior to others at any activity is actually
false pride, which stems from the notion that you are no damned good
unless you better others' performances. This kind of "ego-raising" will last
only so long as you succeed in what you are doing, and in the last analysis
demands perfect performance and absolute superiority over others.
The truly rational and sane person, therefore, mainly enjoys himself because he is playing the game and only incidentally because he is succeeding
at it. Artistically, he is interested in bettering his own performance but is
little obsessed with out-performing others. He accepts the fact that he may
do well under some circumstances, but hardly under all; and that even when
he is accomplishing what he set out to do, he practically never will be a
perfect achiever. He frequently has high but not unrealistic levels of aspiration. And if he fails to achieve what he would like to achieve he is disappointed but not desolate, he regrets his failure but does not view himself as
worthless.
Because the thinking individual approaches the problem of achievement
in a rational manner, he is more likely to do well at what he wants to do than
the person who desperately needs to succeed. For he will learn to welcome
his mistakes and errors, instead of being petrified by them, and he will use
them to better his future performances. He will realize that practice more
than anything else, makes perfect, and that, being a fallible human, only
continual practice will help him to eliminate his errors and to better his
performances. He will also, not being afraid of error, be risk-taking and
committable; and will consequently try many tasks that he otherwise
would avoid trying and would, of course, never succeed at because he didn't
try.
If, then, you would like to succeed at some project, profession, or artistic
endeavor, and are willing un-blamefully to accept yourself (and others) in
case you make an honest attempt and fail, you will try to do your best
rather than the best, and you will not falsely invest your "ego" in your try.
You will honestly strive to win mastery over your material, and perhaps over
yourself; but you will not try to demonstrate that you are a better person
than others.
ERADICATING DIRE FEARS OF FAILURE

A twenty-five-year-old physicist came to therapy because he constantly


felt that he was failing. His feelings of failure were all the more remarkable
because, objectively viewed, he was doing very well in his work and appeared not only normal but supernormal. Not only had he obtained his
Ph.D. at an early age but in addition to his academic achievements had
played on the college football, baseball, and basketball teams. He was tall,
muscular, and good-looking; and, at the age of 25, was well on his way to
becoming one of the country's leading physicists. Here was an individual
who had almost everything-and was, nonetheless, terribly unhappy.
"The whole trouble," said the patient at one of his early psychotherapy
sessions, "is that I am really a phony. I am living under false pretenses. And
the longer it goes on, the more people praise me and make a fuss over my
accomplishments, the worse I feel."
"What do you mean you are a phony?" asked the therapist. "I thought that
you told me, during our last session, that your work has been examined at

99

another laboratory and that some of the people there think your ideas are of
revolutionary importance. They are certainly not the kind of scientists to
be fooled by pretenders in the field:'
"Oh, that data and my interpretations are probably sound enough. But
I have wasted so much time. I could be doing very much better. Just this
morning I sat in my office, stared into space, and accomplished nothing at
all. I do this often. Also, when I actually work on my problems I often do
not think with the clarity and the precision that I should. Just the other
day I caught myself making a mistake that a college junior wouldn't have
made. And in trying to write the paper that I am working on for the next
meeting of my regional professional organization I am taking many hours
to do what I should be able to knock out in an hour or two at most,"
Aren't you being just a little bit hard on yourself?"
"No, I don't think so. Remember that book 1 told you 1 was writing for
popular consumption, why, it's been three weeks now since I've spent any
time on it. And this is simple stuff that I should be able to do with my left
hand while I am writing a technical paper with my right. I have heard Bob
Oppenheimer reel off stuff extemporaneously to a bunch of newspaper
reporters that is twice as good as what I am mightily laboring on in this
damned book!"
"Perhaps so. And perhaps you're not quite as good-yet-as Oppenheimer or a few other outstanding people in your field. But that's not the
point. The real point, it seems to me, is that you have the most ridiculous
perfectionistic standards for judging yourself that I've heard in, well the
last few months. And I hear about perfectionism practically every day in
the week. But here you are, at just twenty-five, with a Ph.D. in a most difficult field, with an excellent job, much good work in process, and what well

100 A Guide To Rational Living


may be a fine professional paper and a good popular book also in progress.
And just because you're not another Oppenheimer or Einstein quite yet,
you're savagely berating yourself."
'Well, shouldn't I be doing much better than I am?"
"No, why the devil should you? As far as I can see, you are not doing badly
at all. But your major difficulty-the main cause of your present unhappiness-is your utterly perfectionistic criteria for judging your performance.
You pick the one physicist, such as Oppenheimer, who is truly outstanding
at communicating his views to the public, and you lament that you are not
doing as well as he. And you compare yourself, at one relatively uncreative
time in your life, with your most furiously creative periods. Studies have
been made of the creative process-of creators such as Oppenheimer,
Einstein, Newton, and Rutherford-and they demonstrate beyond dispute
that it is an uneven kind of activity. Nobody, and I mean nobody, just
steadily creates. In fact, it has also been shown that during those periods in
which the creator putters, stares out of the window, and apparently just
wastes time, he may be dredging up and recombining ideas on which he
later will focus his full attention and which may turn out to be among his
very best creations."
"That may be so. But that does not prove that my periods of staring out of
the window are truly creative."
"Right you are, it doesn't prove that. But let us suppose that you do waste
a fair amount of time staring out of the window. Why is this horrible? Why
must you be so perfect, so everlastingly productive?"
'Well, I need to produce. I need to utilize my genius fully-that is, if I
am not a phony."
"Why? What's the hurry? What's the compulsion? Suppose you do have
great talent-are a potential Newton or Einstein. Are you obligated to work
perfectly, like some unimaginably wonderful brain machine that turns out
the maximum number of brilliant ideas before it ever stops running? It
would be nice, perhaps, if you did, and might well advance human knowledge. But why must you? If you enjoy fulfilling your creative potential to
the hilt, fine. But is this self-berating, this constantly pushing yourself to
your absolute utmost limits-is this enjoyable?
"So you don't think I owe it to myself or to mankind to make use of my
potential productivity?"
"No, I don't. If you owe anything to yourself, it is to enjoy yourself fully,
not just for the moment but for most of your life. And if perfect, maximum
productiveness on your part were the best manner of long-ranged enjoyment, that would be glorious. But is it? Or would you be far wiser-and
perhaps even in the long run more creatively productive-if you worked
somewhat near your potential capacity, if you were reasonably productive,
ERADICATING DIRE FEARS OF FAILURE

instead of your striving for perfect achievement? And would it not be


better, for both you and society, if you strove for your fulfillment as a
scientist, rather than, as you fairly obviously are, to outdoing others?"
It was a hard, tough therapeutic battle. But ultimately the patient agreed
that he was compulsively achievement-bound and that he could more
wisely follow a more moderate approach to mastering his chosen field. As
he reported at one of the closing therapeutic sessions:
"I always used to try to do the best I could, as if my life depended on it.
Now I still try to finish each of my projects in the best way I know howbut not as if it were a crime if I failed. If my best isn't quite good enough
now, that's too bad: but I accept it as my best. I work more efficiently and
enjoy my work more since I stopped giving myself hell. If I can enjoyably
accomplish what I want to do today, I'll do it. If somehow I can't finish
it today, I always remember, now, that there is a tomorrow. And if some of
the things I want to do never get finished, that's just too bad. As you once

101

said to me, I'm no goddam god or angel; and for a change I now really accept my mortal limitations."
Was, through this kind of therapy, potential genius lost to mankind? Not
at all. Since he has begun enjoying himself at his work, this young physicist has made even more outstanding contributions than before and is already considered to be one of the top young men in his field. Instead of
being less productive, he is in many ways more so; and the only things
that seem to have been lost are his perfectionism and unhappiness.
We most definitely are not opposed to mastery and achievement drives.
People with excellent brain cells are normally impelled to use their heads
to create new, original, superior artistic, scientific, industrial, and other
products. Long may they be so impelled! Maximum happiness, in their
cases, is almost synonymous with creative striving. As long as they do not
insist on an utterly perfectionistic never-a-wasted-moment philosophy.
As we often say to our patients: There are several good reasons why a
man may choose to climb the highest available mountain. He may, for example, enjoy climbing; delight in the challenge this difficult peak presents;
or want to thrill to the view from the top. But there are also bad reasons for
climbing the same mountain: especially, to look contemptuously down on
the people below.

How
to Stop Blaming
12 and Start Living

THE ESSENCE OF mental disturbance can be designated in a single word:


blaming. If any human being would stop, really stop, blaming himself,
others, or unkind fate it would be virtually impossible for him to be emotionally upset about anything. And you can probably omit "virtually" from
the preceding sentence.
But we do, all of us, tend to be severe blamers. And we specifically tend
to hold tenaciously to Irrational Idea No.3: The idea that certain people are

bad, wicked, or villainous and that they should be severely blamed and
punished for their sins. 'This idea, which is the working hypothesis for a considerable portion of human behavior and interpersonal relations, is
thoroughly invalid and irrational for several important reasons:
1. The idea that certain people are wicked or villainous springs from the
ancient theological doctrine of free will. And although it is probably not
accurate to say that man has no free choice whatever, modem psychoanalytic findings have fairly conclusively shown that he has exceptionally
little free will in the sense that this term is usually employed in theological
discussion. As Fenichel, Freud, Jones, and other analytic writers have indicated, and as many psychological experiments during the last fifty years
have proven, humans learn or are conditioned to behave in certain ways
from their earliest childhood years; and, once they are significantly oriented
in a given "good" or "bad" direction, and unconsciously hold philosophies
of living that drive them to follow certain behavioral pathways, it is most
difficult (although not impossible) for them to change. In these circum102

HOW TO STOP BLAMING AND START LIVING 103

stances, blaming an individual for his wrongdoing is to unfairly attribute to


him a perfect freedom of choice of behavior which he simply does not have.
2. The idea that people are "bad" or "wicked" as a result of their wrongdoings is based on a second erroneous notion: namely, the concept that it is
easy to define "good" and "bad" or "ethical" and "unethical" behavior and
that any reasonable person can readily see when he is acting "right" and
when he is "wrong." The last century of philosophic and psychological
discussion has again demonstrated that morality is a relative concept; that it
differs widely according to places and circumstances; that people in a given
locality rarely reach a unanimous decision as to what is truly "good" or
"bad;" and that most people, when even they theoretically "know" or accept
certain standards of "good" conduct, easily and unconsciously rationalize
their own behavior and find "good" reasons for doing the "wrong" things.
To excoriate humans for their difficulties in defining and accepting "good"
behavior is therefore unrealistic and unjust.
3. Even when standards of "wrongdoing" are fairly well agreed upon, it
is senseless to blame people for not following these standards. For the main
purpose of ethical principles is to induce wrongdoers to say to themselves:
(a) "I have done a wrong or immoral act" and (b) "Therefore, how am I
going to correct myself and not repeat this kind of act in the future?" But
blaming human beings for their mistaken behavior almost invariably induces them to say quite a different set of sentences: (a) "I have done a
wrong or immoral act" and (b) "What a louse I am for doing this act!"
(Ellis ).
Once the individual accepts the concept of blame and devalues himself as
a human being for having done a wrong act he will tend either to consider
himself worthless and inadequate (instead of merely mistaken or unethical); or will (rather than devalue himself) refuse to admit that he was
wrong in his original act; or may even refuse to admit that he committed the
act at all. Otherwise stated: by believing in blame and punishment for sin,
the individual will tend to feel worthless, become obsessively-compulsively
obsessed with his wrongdoing, deny that his act was wrong, or repress
knowledge of his wrong deed. In any event, he will practically never get
around to the relatively simple act of correcting his behavior, because (due
to self-blame) he is preoccupied with either punishing himself or refusing
to admit that he was ever wrong in the first place. Blame or guilt, then, instead of alleviating wrongdoing, often leads to further immorality, hypocrisy, and evasion of responsibility.
4. Anyone who accepts the philosophy of blaming himself for his errors
will tend to be so afraid of making further errors that he will forego experimentation, risk-taking, and commitment to life.
5. Blaming yourself or others for your "sins" leads to an evasion of sane

104 A Guide To Rational Living


morality. Normally, you should be a moral individual, who does not needlessly harm his fellows, "not because you will be a louse or a "sinner" if you
are immoral, but because in the last analysis you will harm yourself and
your loved ones. If you gratuitously interfere with the rights of others, they
or their friends or relatives will tend to retaliate against you or your friends
or relatives; and even if you personally escape scot-free, you will thereby"
help set up an anarchistic, unjust system of living under which you would
normally not want to live. Out of enlightened self-interest, therefore, you
should be as moral as possible in accordance with the rules of your community; and you should not be unthinkingly moral because some arbitrary
or definitional god or convention says that you should be.
6. Blaming an individual means to confuse his wrong acts with his sinful being. But no matter how many evil acts an individual performs, he cannot be intrinsically evil for the very good reason that he could, today or tomorrow, change his behavior completely and commit no additional wrong
deeds. Just as a man who continually fails is never really a failure (but
Simply one who so far has frequently failed), one who has often been wrong
or immoral is never a sinner. A person's (good or bad) acts are the results
of his being but they are never that being itself. His intrinsic value, as we
must keep repeating throughout this book, has nothing essentially to do
with his extrinsic value, or his worth to others. To call a man a criminal, a
blackguard, or a villain implies that because he has in the past committed
wrong acts he must, by his very nature, continue to do so in the future; and
this is simply untrue. And once we label a person as a sinner, we appreciably
help to give him the conviction that he is hopeless and that he cannot stop
doing the wrong thing in the future.
7. To blame another person (or oneself) inevitably means to become
angry or hostile toward this other-to feel that he should not do what he did
(instead of, sanely, that it would have been better if he had not done it; but,
let's face it, he did commit his wrong deed; now how are we going to help
him not commit it again in the future?) Feelings of anger are invariably reflections of one's own grandiosity. One essentially says, by feeling angry,
(a) I do not like Joe's behavior and (b) because I do not like it, he shouldn't
have acted that way. The second sentence here is actually a grandiose non
sequitur: because there really is no reason why Joe shouldn't have acted the
way he did, merely because I do not like the way he acted. I am being unrealistic and god-like when I believe that my (or anyone else's) preference
regarding Joe's behavior should make Joe act differently from the way he
has acted.
It would certainly be nice if Joe acted the way I wanted; but there is still
no reason why he should. Consequently, my anger against Joe really results
from my grandiose interpretation of his act and not from his wrong act
HOW TO STOP BLAMING AND START LIVING

itself; and I am being at least slightly insane in expecting Joe to act in any
way different from the way in which he actually did act. I can legitimately
like him to act differently, but not expect him to do so. And I would better
start putting my own thinking in order if I have such unrealistic expectations.
. 8. Blaming oneself or others not only leads to anger, as just noted, but to
many unpleasant consequences of hostility. Even if I am quite right about
Joe's acts being wrong or immoral, my belief that he should be (humanly)
wrong and my subsequent anger will hardly serve to stop Joe from
acting badly again (in fact, it may give him an incentive to continue acting wrongly just because I hate him and he hates me back); but it will almost always stir up my guts, cause me to have unpleasant feelings, lead to
possible ulcers or high blood pressure in my case, and deflect me from the
real problem: which is how can I calmly and effectively induce Joe not to
act badly again. Fist fights, duels, capital punishment, international wars

105

-in fact virtually every violent aspect of man's inhumanity to man that you
can think of-have frequently resulted from one individual's grandiosely
and unhelpfully blaming another individual whose actions he (perhaps
quite rightly) considers wrong. And just as two wrongs never make a right,
anger against a wrongdoer is probably the most pernicious manner of trying
to correct him.
9. As pointed out in one of our prior books, Sex Without Guilt (Ellis),
anyone who roundly blames another human being' for what he (often arbitrarily) considers to be this other's wrong behavior inevitably will tend to
turn his blaming standards on himself and will end up with considerable
self-loathing. Lack of forgiveness toward others breeds lack of self-forgiveness, with consequent perfectionistic attitudes toward one's own failings
and incompetencies. To devalue another as a human being because he has
made some serious mistakes is to devalue the whole human race, including
one's own humanity. Man's inhumanity to man begins and ends with irrational blame and anger.
An illustration of blaming and self-blaming tendencies may be seen in
the case of Mr. and Mrs. James Smart, who came to therapy largely because
of their mutual hostility, and who were seen together during most of the
therapeutic and marriage counseling sessions. Mr. Smart was a newspaper
man who had gained a national reputation by his accurate and objective reporting of inter-racial tensions and struggles in his home town, in the South.
He was offered an important job with a large metropolitan daily, which
meant a considerable advancement in both prestige and pay. After talking
over the offer with Mrs. Smart (who expressed fears and misgivings, but
no definite objections), he accepted.
Mr. Smart came to the big city ahead of his family to find a house; and

106 A Guide To Rational Living


here the trouble began. For twice the amount they had invested in their
home in the small Southern town from which they came, he found that they
would only be able to obtain inferior quarters in the North. Not having
any considerable savings, he rented a large apartment "to give them a place
to live while they hunted for a home."
The rest of the story will probably be familiar enough to those who make
good salaries but reside in cities where the living costs are high. Smart's
considerable increase in income was soon fully consumed by the high rent,
higher costs of food, clothing, and other expenses; and by the recreational
activities and meals away from home which seemed necessary to give Mrs.
Smart and the children a relief from their close living quarters in an apartment which hardly resembled the "barn of a house" to which they had
previously been accustomed. There were, in short, no savings accumulated
which could be used to purchase a suitable house.
On top of these family living problems, Mr. Smart was increasingly disappointed with his new job. He had administrative responsibilities for
which he was poorly prepared and in which he lacked interest. His superior
on the new newspaper put up a front of being a liberal newspaper man of
the old time tradition but in practice whenever his employees tried to report the news fearlessly he began to jump and tremble for fear that some
large advertiser would be alarmed and would withdraw his support.
By the time Mr. and Mrs. Smart came for psychotherapy, they were in
despair. Family and professional happiness seemed to be lost forever. Mrs.
Smart was blaming her husband for being stupid about his profession and
for not caring about her and the children. Mr. Smart was blaming himself
for misjudging his new job and fur managing the living conditions so
poorly. He also felt that his wife was highly uncooperative, sexually frigid,
and a poor mother.
One of the early sessions with this couple ran as follows:
Mrs. S: And just to make things worse, Doctor, as if they weren't bad
enough already, he's even taken to staying out after work and drinking. He
can't be a good newspaper man anymore, so he has to act like one by sitting
around at the bar and telling the boys how well he could have covered the
Battle of Bull Run.
Mr. S.: There's more bull running around home these days than anywhere else. Why should I come home to hear you read that same old speech
about what a louse I am?
Therapist: I think you've both made it quite clear what kinds of complaints you have against each other. Now, just for the sake of discussion
let's assume for a moment that you, Mr. Smart, have been making some absolutely inexcusable, selfish, and malicious mistakes.
HOW TO STOP BLAMING AND START LIVING

Mrs. S.: I didn't say malicious. I don't think he thought enough about
it to have any malice. But I'll go along with the other adjectives.
Mr. S.: I'll say she will! And a few other choice invectives, if you can
think of any. She has no difficulty at all in dreaming them up by the
thousands.
Therapist: O.K. Let's grant for the time being that your husband, Mrs.
Smart, has made some real horrible mistakes. We could make a number of
fairly legitimate excuses for him. We could point out, for example, that he
couldn't possibly have known, with his past experiences, how bad things
would be in this new city, and that therefore his mistakes were only normal.
But let's waive all these extenuating circumstances and just plainly state
that he made a series of stupid errors-and that he's still making them, including the drinking with the boys. All right: so what? So he's made mistakes. Now what's the possible value of your savagely denouncing him for
his errors? How helpful are you being by your denunciations?
Mrs. S~: Well-but-! Do you expect me to give him a medal or some-

107

thing for acting like such an idiot? And then for making things worse with
this weak-livered running away from the problem into the demon alcohol?
Do you expect me to comfort him, like a good wife, and to cheer him on to
more mistakes along the same order?
Therapist: No, not exactly. Though you might be surprised, if you really
tried it, how well your satirically-made suggestion might work. But let's not
ask you to go to that extreme. The real point is: granted that your husband
has made serious mistakes, what good will blaming him do? Has your blame
made him commit fewer mistakes? Has it made him feel more kindly
toward you? Has it made you feel happier in your own right?
Mrs. S.: Well, no. I can't say that it has.
Therapist: Nor will it ever, in all probability. For the more you blame
your husband-or anyone else, for that matter-the more defensive he will
usually become and less likely to admit his errors, least of all to you. As we
saw a minute ago: when you were criticizing him, his main line of defense
was to be sarcastic to you. And this is a normal human tendency: to protect
yourself against blame by blaming back the one who is attacking you.
Mrs. S.: Oh, he's pretty good at that, I must admit!
Therapist: Yes, but who isn't? And the point is: the more he is blaming
you back, after you keep jumping on him, the less he is going to face the
real problem at hand: which is-"Now let's see. I did badly this time; how
can I change my ways and do better next time?" Moreover, the more he
accepts your blame, and beats himself down the way you are trying to
beat him down, the less he will be able to cope with the real problem, even
if he faces it. For he will keep saying to himself: "My wife is right. I am no
good. How could I have been so stupid? What a perfect fool I was! She's

108 A Guide To Rational Living


absolutely right. And how can such an idiot get out of this mess that I've
gotten myself into? She's right: I'm just about hopeless. No use trying to do
the thing over again, I'll just mess it up even worse. I might just as well
drink myself into a stupor and forget about the whole horrible business
since Ill never be able to resolve it anyhow."
Mr. S.: You're hitting it right on the head! That's exactly what I have
been saying to myself. And who wouldn't-when his own wife keeps telling him, over and over, what a hopeless fool and an incompetent louse he is?
Therapist: Right. Who wouldn't? Almost everyone in this society would.
And they'd all, everyone of them, be one hundred per cent wrong.
Mr. S.: Wrong? But you just said that it was natural for me to feel that
way when my wife kept beating me down like that.
Therapist: Yes-statistically natural, in that the great majority of husbands would do exactly what you have done. But that still doesn't mean
that they would be right in doing so, or that they'd have to do so.
Mr. S.: But what else could I have done? What would you expect me
to do?
Therapist: I would expect you to do nothing other than you did. But I
would hope, once I induced you to acquire a new idea or two, that you
would not do what you did, accept your wife's blame and use it to belabor
yourself with, even though the majority of husbands would do exactly that.
Mr. S.: And what is this new idea or two you're talking about?
Therapist: Mainly the idea that you don't have to accept anyone's negative views of you and use them against yourself-even when these views
contain some amount of truth.
Mr. S.: But how can you help accepting them in those circumstanceswhen you know you're wrong?
Therapist: Very simply. By following what we call the A-B-C theory of
rational therapy. A, in this case, is the fact that you've done badly and that
your wife is castigating you for your mistakes. And C is the fact that you're
accepting her blame and are taking her critical arrows and sticking them
in your own heart. You look at A, what seems to be her justifiable blame,
and at C, what seems to be your own justifiable self-castigation, and you
say to yourself: 'Well, A naturally leads to C. Why shouldn't I blame myself
if she's right about blaming me?"
. Mr. S.: Well, doesn't A lead to C in this case? Shouldn't I admit my mistakes and blame myself for them? How else will I ever change?
Therapist: No, A does not automatically lead to C as you think it does.
Rather, A leads to B-which is your interpretation of A. And B is based
on your general philosophy of life, which you (as well as your wife) have
learned in this silly society, to the effect that one should be blamed for doing the wrong thing, for making mistakes. Therefore, when your wife veHOW TO STOP BLAMING AND START LIVING

bally rips you up at A, you interpret her criticism as being accurate and
good at B, and then you accept it at C and do great damage to yourself, by
considering yourself hopeless, taking to drink, and so on.
Mr. S.: But I still say: Isn't she right in criticizing me at A?
Therapist: No. She would be right if she calmly, objectively called to
your attention at A the fact that you are making the wrong moves, committing errors. But that is not what she is doing by her criticism. She is first
calling your wrongdoing to your attention and then saying: "But you
shouldn't be doing wrong, you louse! You have no right to be acting so
stupidly." And this is ridiculous: for every human being has a right to be
wrong. And even though it may be highly undesirable for him to make mistakes, it is only human for him to do so, and he is not a louse.
Mrs. S.: So I should just calmly call my husband's errors to his attention
and try to help him do better in the future. Is that it?
Therapist: Right. His mistakes are past. Now the question is: What

109

can be done about improving the present situation? What are some of the
realities that both of you can face to make the future different from the
past? What can both of you learn from your errors? What can you do now
that will make life more enjoyable for you and your children?
Mr. S.: I'm beginning to see what you mean. And I guess that one thing I
can do is to stop acting like an ostrich by sticking my head in the comer
bar.
Mrs. S.: If that's a promise, I'll match it with one of my own. I'll stop
blaming you for your past mistakes-including what I thought was the mistake
of dragging us in here to confess all our woes to the Doctor. I'm glad I
came. The Doctor is right: it is understandable, now that I look at it that
way, how you could have made this move, and got the wrong apartment,
and made those other mistakes. I guess I haven't exactly been an angel
myself.
Mr. S.: Wow! I wish I had brought along a tape recorder to get down
that historic statement! That admission has made more history than Bull
Run ever did. But you're right: I can see now that it is understandable how
I could have made those idiotic moves. And how you could have been so unangelic, too! Hell, if we'd only spend some of this self-blaming and blamingthe-other time in looking at our real problems, I'm sure we'd get much farther
with them.
Therapist: You see. Turn off the heat of blaming and you are already
feeling better about yourselves and each other. Now let's see if we can't get
both of you to do less and less blaming and more and more problem-solving
in the future. In which case you'll still be left with some real hassles, but
none of them should be insoluble.
Which proved to be quite true. Months later, after Mr. Smart had man-

110 A Guide To Rational Living


aged to secure another job in a middle-sized city, purchased (with his wife's
full consent) a small house, and cut his drinking almost to zero, the therapist
received this letter from Mrs. Smart: "James the First is reigning benignly
and supremely in his new job. If you didn't see his syndicated series
on Jim Crowism in the North, let me know and Ill modestly mail copies of
the articles to you. Home is wonderful-just like home. All the kids and Jim
and I have made a lot of fine friends. The children like their school. I like
the house and the neighborhood. And, though we are probably prejudiced,
we all seem to like each other. What was that you said about blame? Never
heard of the word. Thanks and love."
What can you do to catch your blaming yourself and others and to tackle
and challenge the irrational assumptions behind your blaming? Several
things:
1. Whenever you become depressed or guilty you should recognize that
you must, on some level, be blaming yourself, and should immediately try
to track down the specific sentences you are telling yourself to create this
blame. Generally, you will be saying to yourself: (a) "I was wrong in doing this (or not doing that)" and (b) "I therefore am no good or worthless
for being wrong." And you must change these sentences to: (a) "Perhaps I
was definitely wrong about doing this (or not doing that)"; (b) "This is
what human beings are- frequently wrong"; (c) "Now how do I find out
exactly what was wrong about my behavior and calmly go about correcting
it next time?"
2. Resolving to correct your misdeeds in the future will frequently not
suffice, any more than resolving to be a good pianist will make you one. You
can only play the piano, or diet, or correct your past errors in the future by
work and practice-by literally forcing yourself to follow a new path. Thus,
if you want to be moral, you must literally force yourself to be honest,
responsible, and non-injurious to others. And you must convince yourself that
although it is often easier in the short run to be dishonest, irresponsible, and
injurious to others, long-range self-interest and happiness will be achieved
only by your own moral behavior.
Rational morality, in other words, is not achieved by saying to yourself:
"I have done wrong; I am a blackguard; therefore I must stop my misdeeds
in the future." It is only achieved by saying: "I have done wrong; I will
keep defeating my own ends and helping create the kind of a world in
which I do not want to live if I continue to do wrong; therefore I would
better change my ways." And to surrender self-blame you require not only
Insight No. 1-"I am looking upon myself as a louse because I was propagandized to do so by my parents, teachers, and others." -but also Insight
No. 2--"If I am to stop looking upon myself as a louse, I must work at
challenging
HOW TO STOP BLAMING AND START LIVING

the assumptions 1 have derived from my past propagandization by


others and must keep acting against my self-defeating beliefs."
3. You should learn to distinguish between responsibility and blame.
You are often responsible for your poor behavior, in the sense that you actually did it and theoretically could have not done it. But because you are
responsible for your activities does not mean that you are a worthless person for performing them-that you are to blame for them.
4. You should try to distinguish between behavior which is actually and
that which is seemingly wrong. Having premarital sex experience, for example, is said to be wrong by many religious and community groups. But
do you think that it really is? Do you believe that you are actually needlessly, definitely harming anyone, including yourself, when you have such
relations on a voluntary basis?
Do not merely unthinkingly accept a given act as wrong or immoral; but
determine, as best you can, whether it is truly so in your eyes. If you have to

111

conform to certain laws, even though you do not believe in their value, then
(in order to avoid bringing down certain community penalties on yourself)
do your best to conform to them. But if there are certain customs, rather
than laws, which you disagree with and that you are not forced to conform
to, then by all means stand up against them or quietly flout them in some
instances-as long as you do not too badly defeat your own ends by your
rebellion.
5. When you find that you are angry at or hostile to others, admit your
own grandiosity and perfectionism. If you merely dislike or are annoyed or
irritated at others' actions, that is quite legitimate: since you are then preferring
that they should act differently and being frustrated or disappointed
when they don't. But anger means you are telling yourself: "I don't like
what Dick is doing; and therefore he shouldn't be doing it," instead of: "I
don't like what Dick is doing; now let me see how 1 can persuade him or
help him to act differently." The thing to do, in these circumstances, is to
tackle your own grandiosity and to force yourself-yes, force yourself-to
accept Dick the way he is, at least temporarily, and thereby to undo the
blame and anger that you are creating.
If, by employing the foregoing techniques and others that you can devise
to supplement them, you keep challenging and contradicting your selfblaming and other-blaming tendencies, you will not end up as a saint or a
pollyanna. You will still, on many occasions, thoroughly dislike your own
and others' behavior. But you will have a much better chance of changing
what you dislike instead of boiling in your 'Own juices. To err is human; to
forgive is to be sane and realistic.

How to be Happy
Though
Frustrated

13

NINETY-NINE AND NINE-TENTHS per cent of the people in this world seem to
be inextricably wedded to a thoroughly false notion: that they must be
unhappy when they are frustrated. Even most contemporary psychologists
believe the famous Dollard-Miller hypothesis: that frustration necessarily
leads to aggression. And they are all, these millions of lawmen and thousands of psychologists, almost one hundred per cent wrong.
The frustration-aggression hypothesis stems from Irrational Idea NO.4:

The idea that it is terrible, horrible, and catastrophic when things are not
going the way one would like them to go. This idea is false for several reasons, including these:
1. Although it is indubitably unpleasant or unfortunate when you do
not get what you want out of life, it is rarely catastrophic or horrible unless
you think that it is. When things are going badly, you have the choice, as a
human being, of saying: (a) "I don't like this situation. Now let's see what
I can do to change it. And if I can't change it, that's tough but not necessarily
catastrophic." Or you can say: (b) "I don't like this situation. I can't
stand it. It's driving me crazy. It shouldn't be this way. It's simply got to
change, otherwise I can't possibly be happy." The second of these chains of
sentences will, sure as shooting, lead you to be miserable, self-pitying, depressed, or hostile. The first set of sentences will lead you to be un-delighted
and regretful but not necessarily dejected or angry.
2. Although children are frequently not able to tolerate any amount of
frustration, there is no reason why adults cannot calmly do so. Children are
112
HOW TO BE HAPPY THOUGH FRUSTRATED

almost entirely at the mercy of their environment. They cannot easily


look ahead to the future and see that if they are now frustrated they may not
perpetually be. Children, moreover, cannot be expected to be old enough
or bright enough to be philosophic about their frustrations. Not so adults.
Adults, if they are not mentally deficient, can see an end to their present
frustrations; can change their own environments in most instances; can
philosophically accept their existing life handicaps when these cannot, for
the nonce, be changed.
3. If you make yourself-yes, make yourself-terribly upset and unhappy about your frustrations, you will almost invariably block yourself

113

from effectively removing them. The more time and energy you expend in
lamenting your sorry fate, ranting against your frustrators, and gnashing
your teeth in despair, the less effective action you will be able to take in
counteracting your handicaps and dealing with those who may be frustrating you. Even if you are correct in your surmise that it is unfair and unethical for others to block your wishes-so what? So it is unfair and unethical.
Who said that people shouldn't be unfair and unethical-however nice it
would be if they weren't?
4. In the case of inevitable and unchangeable frustrations-when your
parent or mate dies, for instance, and you cannot possibly bring him or her
back to life-it is particularly senseless upsetting yourself because you are
deprived of something you want very much. So you are deprived. Will your
wailing and moaning bring back your loved one? Will your ranting at unkind fate really make you feel better? Why not, instead, maturely accept the
inevitable, however unpleasant it may be?
5. Whether you like it or not, you simply must accept reality when you
cannot change it. Reality is; and if it is unfortunate and frustrating, that is
bad; but it is still not necessarily catastrophic. As long as you are still alive
and in reasonably good health, you are the master of your fate, you are the
captain of your soul. Reality may block and defeat your ends. Sometimes it
can even kill you. But it cannot, while you are still alive, truly defeat you.
Only you can defeat yourself-if you believe that what is shouldnt be, that
because you are beset you must be unhappy.
Let us look at a few illustrative cases. Mary Manahan kept coming to see
me (A.E.) for session after session, always complaining that her husband
didn't love her, that he never gave her the things she wanted, and that he
was therefore a no-good son-of-a-gun. Her complaints, from what I could
see, were at least half-justified; for Tim Manahan was hardly the best husband in the world and most women who might have been married to him
would have complained bitterly about his inconsideration and neglect. But
even after admitting this to Mary, I still refused to buy her complaints.
Then, as I had expected, she turned her anger on me.

114

A Guide To Rational Living

"But look here," she exclaimed, "you've seen Tim for yourself and you
admit that he's often unkind and inconsiderate to me-especially now that
I'm pregnant again and in need of additional help. How can you say that
I've got no right to complain?"
"Oh, I didn't say that at all," I calmly replied. "You have every right in
the world to complain, if you want to-just as you have every right in the
world to commit suicide, if that is what you want. The only point I am really
making is that if you do keep complaining, as you have been doing for the
last several weeks, you might just as well cut your throat-for that is what
you really are doing. You are just raising your own blood pressure all the
time. And what good will that do you and your unborn child?"
"But you don't seem to understand. It's his fault that I'm unhappy. He's
the one that's acting badly, not me."
"True: he's acting badly. But you're acting even worse. All the more reason, since he is doing you no good by his behavior, that you should not do
likewise. And, compared to the harm youre doing yourself, he's acting almost like an angel. For you're the one who's really killing yourself, not him."
"But how can I stop him from acting the way he is? That's the real problem,
as I see it."
"Yes-as you see it. But the problem as I see it is, first: How can you stop
you from acting the way you are? Then maybe you'll have a chance to help
change him."
"What do you mean? How will my acting differently change him?"
"Very simply. You say that your husband loves you much less than you
want him to and acts much worse than you would want him to act. And
with these statements I agree: since I can see for myself, by talking to him,
that he doesn't love you too much or act too well with you."
"See! Even you agree that he treats me badly."
"Yes, even I agree. But that's not the point. The point is that the worse
you treat him, because he treats you so badly, the worse still he will tend
to treat you. And the more you beat him over the head for not loving you,
the less he will tend to love you. If you really want him to treat you betterwhich you say you do, but make no efforts to arrange-then you should obviously love him more and treat him less critically-especially when he is
being nasty and inconsiderate. For if you can give a human being love and
kindness when he does not, by his actions, merit it, he will clearly see that
you must really love him. And if, in those circumstances, he does not love
you more and act better toward you, nothing, I am afraid, will do the trick
of winning him more to your side."
"But he was the one who started to treat me badly wasn't he?"
"No matter. If he treats you badly, then you criticize him for treating you
badly, he will only, as he has done, end up by treating you still worse. In
HOW'TO BE HAPPY THOUGH FRUSTRATED

fact, he'll probably forget that he did treat you badly in the first place, and
claim that he treats you badly now because you're criticizing him."
"That's exactly what he does contend."
"See! So you can't win, the way you're playing the game. But if you play
it differently, and return his lack of love with increased love and kindness,
then at least you've got a chance to win some real love from him."
"But is that fair? Should 1 have to do it that way, after how he's acted."
"No, it's not fair. So it's not! The question still is: What are you going to
do, other than berating your husband, to win more love from him? When are
you going to stop all this it's-not-fair nonsense and do something to make
your life fairer?"
As usual, it was a tough go with this patient, and several times she almost
quit therapy in disgust. But, by sheer power of persuasive logic, I finally
won, and she did try several weeks of giving her husband more love and less
criticism even though he was being his usual inconsiderate self. A near-

115

miracle then ensued; and just four sessions later Mrs. Manahan had quite a
different story to tell:
"I don't know how you figured out Tim so well," she said, "but you hit
it right on the nose. For ten days he was the biggest louse in the world, refused to help me with any of the heavy work around the house, stayed out
late at the office almost every night, and even hinted about taking up with
one of his old girl friends again. But, even though it at first killed me, I
gritted my teeth, said (just as I've heard you say to me so many times) 'All
right, so he's being his usual crummy self. It won't kill me. I don't like it,
but I don't have to cry in my beer all night about it: And I didn't say a word
to him, went out of my way to make things nice for him, and instead of withdrawing sexually decided to extend myself more than usual. Well, you
should have seen the quick change! He now comes home early every night,
sometimes actually brings me flowers, is so solicitous of my condition that
I can hardly believe it, and is practically a different person. Quite a change
from just a couple of weeks ago! I really have to hand it to you, Doctor. Just
as soon as I begin to work for the love I wanted from Tim, I began to get it.
Much better than crying all the time over how frustrated I was!"
Myra Benson was another good example of how a changed philosophy of
living helped a disturbed human being get over a deep-seated feeling of
frustration and pain. Myra came to see me (R.A.H.) after her boyfriend of
the last two years had broken off their relationship and become engaged to
a much wealthier girl. She was desolate, insisted that life was not worth
living any more, and that she could never possibly replace him. I was duly
sympathetic, but more than a bit adamant and insisted that she was telling herself rot, that within a few months or a year or two she would doubt-

116 A Guide To Rational Living


less be attached to some other man just as intensely as she had been to
this one.
"But you don't seem to understand," Myra wailed. "He has left me. I not
only loved him, but had my whole future planned in and around him. Nothing has meaning any more. Everything I try to do, everywhere I go, everything I even try to think about is just plain empty without him." And she
dived, for the twelfth time that session, for her wad of Kleenex tissues.
"So that is too bad," I said. "But it has clearly happened. Your relationship with him is ended. No doubt about it. Ended; finished, over with. What
good is crying about it? Your crying certainly won't bring him back."
"I know. But you don't-"
"Yes, I don't seem to understand. But I do understand; and it is you, in all
probability, who don't. You don't-or, rather, I should really say you won't
-understand that it is over, and there's not a damned thing you can do
about it right now to start it up again. And what you especially don't or
won't understand is that the only sane thing to do, at the moment, is to start
thinking about what else and who else can be interesting and enjoyable to
you. No use repeating over and over that 'life is empty without Robert'thereby making it as empty as you're saying that it is. If I began telling myself life was empty without old Calvin Coolidge, and repeated this often
and grimly enough, I'm sure that I could feel sad as hell about old Caland about old worthless me, who just couldn't get along without good old
Cal."
"You're making fun of me!"
"Yes, I guess I am making fun of you a bit-which is a darned sight better
than what you're doing: making mincemeat of you. And don't think that
I'm just making up this stuff about feeling sad years later. Why, just the
other day I had a 54-year-old man in here who literally began to cry when
he talked about his mother. Know how long his dear old mother had been
dead? Twenty-five years. Only yesterday to him. Genuine emotion? Deep
love for dear old mother? Absolutely. But the poor guy had kept it alive
for 25 years by regularly saying to himself: 'Mother is dead. How awful,
how dreadful. What a fine, wonderful, self-sacrificing woman she was! And
now she's dead-gone forever. Poor mother! And poor motherless me! How
awful!' "
''Well, you'll have to admit," and Myra smiled a little through her tears,
"that I'm not quite as bad as that yet."
"No-not yet. But you probably will be if you keep feeding yourself this
hogwash about how indispensable Robert was to your life and how you
can't go on without him. If you want to follow the noble example of my
54-year-old patient and his dear departed mother (and me, of course, with
my dear departed Calvin Coolidge), I am sure, in fact I have every conHOW TO BE HAPPY THOUGH FRUSTRATED

117

fidence, that you can go on telling yourself for the next 25 years or so what
a stinking, horrible, catastrophic shame it is that Robert has left you and
rendered your poor, poor life infinitely barren. You can do it, all right, if
you just keep telling yourself such nonsense. On the other hand, if you decide
that instead of sitting around in feebleminded grief you'd like to develop
an interesting and enjoyable life-this you can do by saying different
kinds of sentences to yourself and learning to believe and act on them."
"You are certainly a hardboiled and hardhearted person. You make fun of
my genuine bereavement by comparing it with a sick old man's sentiment
for his mother and your cynical fiction about grieving for Calvin Coolidge."
"Yes, I make fun because I have found from long experience in helping
people that they find it exceedingly difficult to leave my office and start
catastrophizing with the same consistency and intensity if I have ridiculed
their prolonged disturbance. For you to feel badly for a little while about
Robert's desertion may make some sense. And it especially makes sense if

you want to examine as critically and objectively as possible-with my


help-what are some of the things you did or didn't do to contribute to
Robert's leaving you. But for you to sit around and tell yourself how hornswaggled bad it is, how devastatingly catastrophic that you no longer have
your dear Robert-that makes no more sense than my two examples. So
Robert deserted you. The problem is: What can you do to enjoy your life
without him? Stop crying over how unfair reality is to you. It is as it is. Let's
see what you can do to make it better."
As I proceeded to hammer away at Myra Benson's irrational preoccupation
with her loss, she began to substitute other self-verbalizations for the
ones with which she had been making, and keeping, herself depressed. She
soon began to develop new interests, activities, associations. Life ceased to
be empty. Not that it had intrinsically changed; but she began to interpret
it differently. And that made all the difference in the world.
What, more specifically, are some of the paths that a sane individual can
take when he is faced with real life frustrations, including possible injustices
and more than his share of accidental misfortune? Here are some major
ways of coping with actual difficulties and un-pleasantries:
1. When faced with a frustrating set of circumstances, you should first
determine whether it is truly handicapping in its own right or whether you
are not essentially defining it so. Is your less than perfect appearance really
preventing you from going with desirable members of the other sex-or are
you, because of your silly need to be the best looking person in town sabotaging
your own dates? Is your parents' opposition to your having a certain
career truly preventing you from following this career-or are you giving
up much too easily, failing to plunge ahead despite their opposition, and
perhaps using them as an alibi to cover up your own possible fear of fail-

118

A Guide To Rational Living

ure? What, when your own negativistic definitions are canceled out, actually
is inhibiting about this or that frustrating circumstance in your life?
Challenge, question-see.
2. If the frustration that you face is truly considerable and there is no
way in which you can presently significantly change or control it, then you
would better gracefully and realistically accept it. Yes: not-with bitterness
and despair, but with dignity and grace. As Epictetus noted two thousand
years ago: "Who, then, is unconquerable? He whom the inevitable cannot
overcome." Schopenhauer, many centuries later, put the same thought in
this wise: "A good supply of resignation is of the first importance in providing for the journey of life." Sydney Smith put it this way, "If it be my lot
to crawl, I will crawl contentedly; if to fly, I will fly with alacrity; but as
long as I can avoid it, I will never be unhappy."
3. Ask yourself, whenever frustrations and annoyances beset you, "Who
says that I should not be so sorely beset? It would surely be nice if I were
not in this fix. But I am in it. Tough! Will it kill me to be as frustrated as I
am? Probably not. Will it plague and bother me? All right-so it will plague
and bother me! All the more reason, therefore, why I should not plague and
bother myself-should not make myself annoyed at being annoyed. Then
Ill just have two frustrations for the price of one!" Convince yourself, in
other words, that frustrations and irritations are the normal lot of man; that
virtually no one lives without encountering many of them; that they are not
ordinarily catastrophic; and that you have the thinking power to survive
quite well in spite of their existence.
4. The greater your loss or frustration is in life, the more philosophic
you must force yourself to become in regard to it. Almost all modem members of civilized communities (unlike, among other peoples, the Ancient
Spartans) seem to believe that the greater the loss is or the more attached
they are to the lost object, the more unhappy they have to be about it. Hogwash! The greater your loss or frustration is, the more you will tend to
regret or dislike it. But regret and dislike need not equal dire unhappiness.
When the former is translated into the latter, the unhappy person is saying

to himself: (a) "1 cannot be with my dearly loved person or have my


ardently desired object, and this is regretful," and (b) "Because I cannot
have what I dearly want, this is terrible, horrible, catastrophic, and totally
unfair and it just shouldn't be." While the first of these sentences may well
be sensible and true the second one is arrant nonsense and can be objectively
observed and philosophically challenged and uprooted.
5. When you are bothered by real life handicaps, such as physical pains
that cannot for the moment be eradicated, you will do well to practice sensation
-neglect or distraction. Thus, you can either try to ignore and forget
about the painful or annoying sensations; or you can deliberately think
HOW TO BE HAPPY THOUGH FRUSTRATED

about or do something else. If, for example, you have a headache, you can
try to forget about it instead of continually telling yourself: "My, what a
terrible headache this is! How can I stand it if it continues?" Or you can
deliberately try to think about something pleasant (such as the good time
you had the day before or the picnic you are going to have next Sunday);
or you can participate in some distracting activity, such as chess, reading,
or painting. Since it is not at all easy to put a painful stimulus out of mind
while you are still being assailed by it, the second plan, that of deliberately
trying to distract yourself with other, more pleasant stimuli, is usually
more effective.
Although the use of distraction is admittedly palliative, and does not
solve any basic problem permanently, it sometimes produces most beneficial
results where all other anti-unhappiness techniques fail. Years ago, I (A.E.)
was impressed with its possibilities when I discovered that I could eliminate
most of the pain of drilling or other dental work by deliberately focusing,
when my dentist was hacking away at my teeth or gums, on recent pleasant
experiences (especially sexual experiences) that I had undergone or by
composing songs in my head while sitting in the dental chair. I taught this
technique to several of my patients who dreaded visiting the dentist and all
of them who have used it reported good results in relieving pain.
Wallace J. Gardner and his associates have published a report in Science
emphasizing the psychological and physiological effectiveness of playing
music and noise into headphones worn by dental patients and showing how,
in 90 per cent of dental operations, sound stimulation has been the only
analgesic agent required.
The use of distraction to alleviate psychological problems may have undesirable side effects: since the individual thereby may merely temporarily
soothe himself rather than permanently eradicate his disturbances. Acts of
aggression against others, sex diversions, alcohol, marijuana, heroin, and
even tranquilizers may be over-effective in making the individual "feel
good" for the moment, and thereby believe that he does not have to do
anything else to eliminate his basic anxiety and hostility. Abreactive
and cathartic techniques employed in some types of psychotherapy
(such as those used by some psychoanalytic, Reichian, and experiential
therapists) may also nicely divert the patient from his underlying problems
and give him considerable immediate gratification. Distraction, therefore,
has its distinct dangers. But used judiciously, especially to combat physical
pains and annoyances that cannot for the moment be undermined at their
source, it has real advantages.
In the main, however, there is no easy path to dealing maturely with
frustration. The hardest paths of all, the extreme renunciation of life philosophies of the Christian martyrs, certain Buddhist sects, and various other

119

120 A Guide To Rational Living


religious fanatics, are probably too difficult for most humans, and are
suspiciously redolent of masochism and crackpotism. A more moderate degree
of accepting the inevitable frustrations and unpleasantness of life is, however, indispensable for un-anxious and unhostile living.
Ted Byrd may serve as an apt illustration of the desirability of acquiring
a self-disciplined philosophy in regard to frustration. When I (R.A.H.)
first saw Ted as a patient he was one of the best injustice-collectors I had
ever met. With apparently some reason, since he had been rejected by his
father and mother during his childhood, and been sent off to camps and
boarding schools from the age of eight. He was the youngest of five children
in a wealthy family and there seems little room to doubt that he had been
unwanted from birth onward. His four brothers and sisters, who had been
much more welcome than he, had gone on to considerable success in their
lives (at least so far as I could tell from his story); but he had been a drifter,
a job-loser, a drunkard, and a bitter res enter of the world and its treatment
of him.
Ted, who had done a great deal of reading about psychotherapy, particularly in some of the highly fictionalized and dramatized case histories
which masquerade as non-fiction, expected me to place him on the sofa,
sympathetically listen to his tale of woe for the next few years, and encourage him to express and act out his deep-seated hostility for his parents
and other family members. I fooled him, however, by immediately plunging into a counter-attack on his injustice gathering..
"So your parents didn't love you," I said. "They rejected you and treated
you shabbily. All right: granted. But what the devil are you so angry about
now? As a child, to be sure, you had a real rough time of it. But now you're
a big boy-remember? So why go on feeling sorry for yourself about what
you didn't get during your childhood? Why not do something constructive,
interesting, and enjoyable with your present life? What fun are you getting
out of sitting around and telling yourself what a dirty shame it was that you
were treated in a rejecting way by your parents when you were eight years
old? Since you are now-chronologically at least-a big boy, let's see if we
can't get you to think some big-boy thoughts."
Ted was visibly taken aback. "But surely you know-" he started. "Surely
you, as a psychologist, realize that it isn't that easy. I think, even with my
limited understanding of your field, I can fairly accurately say that it is
generally agreed that-well, with rejection in the formative years and that
sort of thing, it is agreed that a person never does get over his need, his
desperate need, to be loved. Unless, perhaps, by long-term analysis. I think
that is what I need. The kind of stuff I've read about in Robert Lindner and
Theodor Reik, for example. Where the patient, over a long period of time,
lives out and works through his past hatreds and frustrations, and really
HOW TO BE HAPPY THOUGH FRUSTRATED
121
sees what it is that's bothering him. Isn't that what you do, that kind of
psychoanalysis?"
"No, not any more. I used to do something of the sort years ago, when I
too was impressed by the kind of books you are citing. But the more patients
I saw and the more I put them through active re-livings of their past experiences, and violent re-hatings of their parental figures, the more I saw
that it just didn't work. They loved it, all right, and had great times re-enacting their early frustrations and hostilities. But they just didn't get better. So
in the last few years, in association with Dr. Albert Ellis of New York, I've
been using a radically different approach to psychotherapy. And though
it doesn't seem as dramatic or as gratifying as what I used to do, it certainly
works a hell of a lot better. My patients used to love me like crazy under
the old therapeutic system. Now, believe it or not, I actually get them to
love themselves."
"Well-uh, I can see what you mean. But don't you really think that in

special cases like mine, where there has been so much rejection by my
parents and so much negative emotion stored up about it in the past, that
I'm one of those who have to work this through, on a long-term analytic
basis, before I can possibly come to the more rational kind of approach that
you and Dr. Ellis-and quite rightly, I am sure-emphasize?"
"No, I don't think anything of the sort. It is of course possible that orthodox psychoanalysis would help you, over a long period of time, to work
through your feelings of rejection. But it is more possible that it would not.
For, after years of dredging up the minute details of just what your parents
said and did to you at the age of two and three, and just how you reacted
to their words and deeds, you would still have to reconstruct your present
philosophy of rejection and frustration and stop telling yourself the nonsense that, after thirty years, you are continually repeating to yourself."
"What kind of nonsense do you mean?"
"The kind you have told me about for the first twenty minutes of this
session and what you are still obviously upholding; namely, that rejection,
especially by one's parents, is a horrible thing, and that unless you can express yourself angrily against it, and somehow induce the world to give you
the living which you still think it owes you, life is not worth living and you
might as well drink yourself to death."
"But isn't rejection a terrible thing and isn't it pretty awful to be frustrated?
"Yes-to a child. A child who cannot think straight and fend for himself.
But you can think straight and fend for yourself-and you're not trying
to do so in any manner, shape, or form. You've brilliantly avoided, all your
life, changing your own attitudes toward frustrating circumstances, and
have only tried to change the circumstances themselves-or else run away

122 A Guide To Rational Living


from them: leave an unpleasant job (instead of trying to make it pleasanter)
or drift from one place to another (instead of trying to make the best of the
place where you are). And you're still, right this minute, trying to avoid
facing frustration by inducing me to put you lazily through several years
of abreactive psychoanalysis, which will give you more time to wallow in
your bitterness instead of doing something to change it and will allow you
the continued luxury of hating others instead of looking them in the eye
and eradicating your own needless feelings of hatred."
"So you think I'm still avoiding instead of facing the basic issues of my
life."
"Well, aren't you? So you want to look closely, oh, so closely! at what your
parents did to you thirty years ago and how that, what they did, made you
what you are today. But you don't want to, not for a minute, look even
moderately closely at what you're doing, day after day, to make yourself
feel so blocked and deprived."
'What am I doing, if I may ask?"
'Why don't you look and see? That's what you really should be here for:
to look, with my help, at the silly sentences you keep telling yourself that
now make you and keep you sick-instead of trying to look at the sentences
your poor, disturbed parents said to you years ago."
"Sentences that I am telling myself?"
"Yes, sentences like: 'Oh, how awful it is to have been rejected by my
parents and to have been discriminated against in favor of my brothers and
sisters. How can I possibly amount to anything in life when those lousy
parents of mine treated me in that despicable fashion?' Can't you see what a
ridiculous non sequitur you're setting up in those internalized sentencesmaking their, your parents', past actions magically influence your present
behavior? And sentences like: 'Lord, how difficult it is to stand on one's own
two feet and battle the frustrations of the world. It's unfair that life should
be this way!' Can't you see how that kind of self-repeated nonsense is adding to instead of easing the very real annoyances that life often has to offer
you?"
"Hmm. You take quite a different tack from those psychoanalytic books
I've read. According to them, you're all wet and your lecturing won't go
deeply enough into my problems or help me solve what basically ails me."
"O.K.-if you want to live by those books, that's your prerogative. And
if you want to go for a long-term, 'deep' psychoanalysis, I'll be glad to send
you to one of my associates who still believes in this sort of thing and will
be delighted to put you through the paces for the next seven or eight years.
But, in the final analysis, you'll still have to do things the hard way, if you
really are to change your ways, and revamp your (and not your sainted
parents' ) philosophy of living."

How to be Happy Though Frustrated

123

"So if I really buckle down to work now and forget for the most part what
happened to me in the past, and what dirty dogs my parents were for treating me the way they did, you think that I can work through my problems
relatively quickly and still deeply understand myself?"
"Correct. There is nothing deeper in life than a man's facing his own
fundamental philosophy-however or whenever he originally acquired itand challenging the basic assumptions by which he lives. Your philosophy,
in a nutshell, is: 'I had it hard in the past and suffered more than the average
lot. Why, therefore should I have to suffer any more deprivations and annoyances today? Why can't I merely revel in my justified hatred for my
parents for the rest of my life and thereby feel better and magically change
the world so it goes more my way?" A very lovely philosophy-but totally
ineffective. When are you going to start growing up and building a more
realistic, less self-defeating way of looking at life?"
"You're a hard man, Dr. Harper. But I'm beginning to think that your
kind of hardness is what I actually need. You know, now that you make me
think of it, it all did seem just a little too easy, a little too good, when I kept
reading how John Smith or Joe Blow, after years of lying on the sofa, suddenly saw the light, admitted that all his life he had really wanted to replace his father in his mother's bed, and then quickly lost his neurotic
symptoms. Yes, I guess I have been, as you say, going for magic and that
I wanted you or some other analyst, with esoteric mumbo-jumbo, to cure
passive, little old me, while I did not a damn thing to lift a finger in my own
behalf. You're right: that would be just the kind of thing, a psychoanalytic
process like that, to keep me from changing, to give me a great excuse not
to change myself, for years and years. I have a friend, Jim Abramsky, who's
been using it that way for hell knows how many years. He goes religiously
to his analyst, four or five times a week, and keeps calling him up on the
phone whenever he gets into the slightest bit of trouble. But he still drinks
like a fish. And whenever I ask him how he's doing in his analysis, he says:
'Fine; really fine. We're going deeper and deeper all the time. Real deep.
One of these days we're going to hit rock bottom and then I'll know what's at
the base of it all and Ill be no longer blocked up like tins: But I can see
now, from what you've just said, that there is no bottom for someone like
Jim. He really doesn't want to get better-for that would require real work
and real change on his part:'
"You're probably right. As long as he keeps going religiously for his
analysis, he has the best excuse in the world not to get better-not to look at
his own nonsensical self-sentences and work his guts off at changing them.
But that's his problem. What are you going to do about your self-reiterated
balderdash, about your crummy philosophy of life?"
"1 don't want to promise you anything, Doctor Harper, for I've made

124 A Guide To Rational Living


many promises to myself and others before, and damned if I haven't goofed
on all of them. But I can tell you this and mean it: for once, I'm going to try,
really try. I'm going right home and fire out most of those 'deep' psychoanalytic books that I've been solacing myself with for such a long time and
I'm going to look much more deeply at myself-or, as you keep putting it,
at my own sentences. I guess I've had enough of this self-pitying, this lookwhat-a-horribly-neglected-child-I-was sort of jazz to last me for the rest of
my life. I think I'll try it your way for awhile and see what happens."
And Ted Byrd did try, for the next six months, looking at his own sentences and seeing what his own (rather than his parents') nonsense consisted of. His drinking decreased considerably; for the first time in his life
he thought in terms of staying in one place; and, at the age of 36, he went
back to school and started to prepare himself for the one profession, electronic engineering, that he had toyed around with for many years but never
seriously pursued. He is still at this present writing, not entirely out of the
woods. But though the average amount of frustrations and annoyances are
his daily and yearly lot, his attitude toward them has changed enormously
and his bitter rantings against the injustices of his past and present world
have almost entirely ceased.

Controlling
Your Own Destiny

14

MOST PEOPLE ARE consuming SO much

time and energy trying to do the impossible-namely, to change and control the actions of others-that they
wrongly believe that they cannot do the one thing that is most possibleto change or control their own thoughts and acts. They firmly hold and
rarely challenge what we call Irrational Idea No.5: The idea that human

unhappiness is externally caused and that people have little or no ability


to control their sorrows or rid themselves of their negative feelings.
This idea is nonsensical for several reasons. First of all, outside people
and events can do nothing, at worst, but harm you physically. All the emotional or mental "pain" they "cause" you is actually created by your taking
their criticisms or rejections too seriously: by your falsely telling yourself
that you cannot stand their disapproval or cannot live without their acceptance.
Even physical injury that comes to you from without-as when a flower
pot accidentally falls and breaks your toe-will often cause you relatively
little trouble if you philosophically accept the inconveniences of your injury
and stop telling yourself, over and over again, "Oh, how awful! Oh, how
terrible this pain is!" Not that you have complete control in this regard:
for you don't. Some externally caused injuries are bound to cause you considerable pain and discomfort, no matter how philosophic about them you
may be. As Bertrand Russell once remarked: "Any man who maintains that
happiness comes wholly from within should be compelled to spend thirtysix hours in rags in a blizzard, without food. "

125

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A Guide To Rational Living

Nonetheless, you do have considerable ability to minimize, though not


entirely eliminate, the pain of physical injuries. And you have virtually
complete ability, if only you would use it, to eradicate your emotional and
mental pain.
Not that controlling your self-created upsets is easy. On the contrary, as
we keep emphasizing, hurting yourself, giving yourself a terribly rough
time, taking others' words and actions and insisting on depressing or exciting yourself about them-these are exceptionally easy things for you to do
once you have been born and raised in a social community. But-as we
keep forcing to the attention of our patients-however easy it may be for
you to hurt yourself emotionally, it is easier in the long run, and much more
rewarding even in the short run to force yourself not to do so.
Take, for example, the statement that our patients are commonly making:
"Jerry said that 1 was stupid and he hurt me very much by saying that."
"No!" we immediately interrupt. "Jerry couldn't possibly hurt you by
saying that you were stupid. Nor could Jerry's words hurt you either. What
you actually mean is that you hurt yourself, once you heard Jerry's words,
by saying to yourself something like: 'Oh, how terrible it is for Jerry to call
me stupid. I'm not stupid and he shouldn't be saying that I am: Or: 'Oh,
how awful! Maybe I really am stupid and he sees that I am. And how perfectly dreadful it would be if I were stupid or if he thought I were' And, of
course, it is not Jerry's words but your phrases and sentences that make you
'hurt: For you could easily say to yourself: 'Jerry thinks I'm stupid. Either
he's wrong, in which case he must have some serious lack of discrimination
or emotional problem. Or he's right, in which case I would better try to
act less stupidly or accept the fact that I am not too bright and get along
as best I can with my stupidity: "
Our patients, again, frequently remark: "I can't stand it, when things
go wrong."
And, once more, we quickly interrupt: "What do you mean you can't
stand it? It doesn't really exist-is just a figment of your imagination. What
you really mean to say is: 'I can't stand myself when things go wrong-because I falsely tell myself that things shouldn't go wrong, or that I'm no
good for letting them go wrong. But if 1 stopped telling myself this nonsense, then I could fairly easily stand-though never perhaps like-the
frustrations of the world and could respect myself for being able to accept
these frustrations:"
Still again: when human beings say that they are unable to control their
feelings, what they invariably mean is that right now, at this very moment,
they have upset themselves in such a manner that their autonomic nervous
system (as shown by over-activity of their sweat glands, visceral reactions,
heart beat) has temporarily gone out of kilter and that they cannot immediCONTROLLING YOUR OWN DESTINY

ately control it. True. But if they expended some time and energy, and
forced themselves to look at the internalized sentences with which they
upset themselves, and by means of which they temporarily drove their
autonomic nervous reactions beyond their normal limits of controllability,
they would soon enough discover that they can eventually bring their
feelings under control again-and sometimes in a surprisingly short length
of time.
A case in point is that of Rick Schule, who spent the first several weeks
of therapy insisting that he could not possibly control his frequent and deepranging feelings of depression because, before he knew it, they were well
upon him; and then he was so quickly overwhelmed and depressed that
he did not feel like doing anything to combat his low state of being.
"I understand all that you say about looking at the sentences that 1 am
saying to create these feelings of depression," Rick said on one occasion.
"But I don't see how this is really possible in my case. For one thing, you

127

must realize that I unconsciously bring on my depressed feelings. So how


can I possibly consciously see them, before they arise, and thereby stop them
from occurring?"
"You can't," said the therapist. "At least not at first. The best you can do,
at first, is to observe your depressed states after they have already arisen,
and then to see, by theoretical analysis and inference, that you must have
brought them on by telling yourself some nonsense. If you look for this nonsense, you are certain to find it-because you could not possibly have become depressed without its being there."
"So if I become depressed, for whatever unconscious reason, I can stop
myself, right in the midst of the depression, and tell myself that I must
be bringing on my depressed mood. And I can then look for the exact
sentences with which I am bringing it on."
"Exactly. It will be difficult for you to do this, especially at first; but nonetheless you can do it. Take a recent instance of depression, for an example.
When was the last time you can remember?"
"Mmm, Let me see. Well, how about yesterday. I got up late, since it was
Sunday, read the newspaper, listened to the radio awhile, and then suddenly felt myself becoming very listless and depressed."
"Hadn't anything happened other than your reading the newspaper and
listening to the radio up to this time."
"No, not that 1 can recall. Let's see if there was anything else. No-Oh,
yes. Nothing really. But I thought about calling my girlfriend and I decided against it."
"Why did you decide against it?"
"Well, I usually see her every Saturday night. But this time she had
another date. I didn't like it, of course; but since I'm far from deciding to

128 A Guide To Rational Living


marry her myself, I couldn't very well tell her not to. Anyway, I thought
of calling her on Sunday, to see if I could see her later that day. But-" Rick
hesitated.
"But--?"
'Well-. Well, you see, I wondered if she were still with her date of the
night before, and whether she would be embarrassed if I called just then,
and-."
.
"Oh! It's fairly obvious what you were telling yourself to bring on your
depression-isn't it?"
"Mmm. I see what you mean. I was telling myself, Well, what if she still
has her date there? And what if she's spent such a pleasant time with him all
night that she just doesn't want to see me anymore? What if he was much
better, in bed that is, with her than I am? Jesus, what an awful thing that
would be!"
"Yes: quite obviously. What an awful thing it would be if he proved to
be a better lover than you, and she gave you up as her steady boyfriend
for him. What a stupid jerk that would make you! Isn't that what you were
telling yourself?"
"I guess you've got it, right on the nose. That's exactly what I was saying
to myself. And I was afraid to call her-afraid I'd find out what the score
was. Afraid she'd no longer think I was any good-and that that would
prove I really wasn't. No wonder I got depressed!"
"Yes-no wonder. But the real point is, can you see how, even though you
'unconsciously' gave yourself such a hard time and depressed yourself, can
you see how you can bring those 'unconscious' thoughts to consciousness,
how you can quickly ferret them out and see exactly what they are?
"By just asking myself like this, like we've just done. By seeing what
sentences I say to myself, just as you keep showing me. By 'unconscious:
then, I really mean those things that I don't look at too closely, but that I
nonetheless tell myself. Is that right?"
"Exactly right. That's what almost all of us mean by unconscious. Occasionally, perhaps, we have truly unconscious thoughts-or thoughts we
repress because we are ashamed to look them in the face, and that we therefore sort of deliberately forget and cannot easily bring to consciousness
any more. That was one of Freud's great discoveries: the existence of repressed thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, however, he went much too
far, and started believing, after a while, that virtually all unconscious
thoughts are repressed ones and are not easily accessible to conscious review again. But he was mistaken in this. Most of your so-called unconscious
thoughts are quite available to consciousness-if you dig for them a bit."
"So if I unconsciously depress myself, I can usually find out pretty quickly
CONTROLLING YOUR OWN DESTINY

129

what I told myself to bring on this depression-and can then un-depress


myself again?"
"Yes-though, as I said before, this will often be difficult. For once your
depression sets in, as you noted a while ago, you don't feel like un-depressing
yourself again; you almost want to stay depressed. And unless you combat
this feeling, and actively go after your underlying sentences with which you
created your depression, you will of course stay quite miserable. So you
have, in a sense, a choice of evils: remaining depressed indefinitely; or
forcing yourself, against your own feeling, to combat the depression by
seeing what you did to create it. A tough choice, Ill admit. But if you keep
taking the lesser of these two evils-combatting your negative feelings, that
is-eventually the time comes when your basic philosophy of life matures
and you depress yourself much more rarely to begin with and have an
easier time getting yourself out of your vile mood when you do unconsciously put yourself in one."
Rick listened thoughtfully. The very next session he came in highly en-

thused. "Well, Doc," he said, "looks like I made it this time. I got myself
into one of those old unconscious depressions again, but I also got myself
out of it."
"Good. Tell me about it."
"Well, it was this way. I told you about my girlfriend last week, and
her going out with another fellow. I saw her again this week and before
I knew it, I heard her saying: 'Rick, get that frown off your face. What are
you so gloomy about. You're not going to die.'
"Jesus Christ! That hit me right in the solar plexus. I realized, right away,
that I was still brooding over what had happened the previous week and
that my glum mood was showing. Which suddenly depressed me all the
more. Within the next five minutes, I felt like taking the rope.
"Fortunately, however, I heard your words ringing in my ears: 'When
you start to get depressed, ask yourself what it is you are saying to yourself
to make yourself depressed.' 'O.K.,' I said to myself, 'what the hell am I
saying to make me depressed?' And I got it, as you might expect, right
away. I was saying, first of all, 'Here she's seeing me again, but how do I
know she really wants to? Maybe she'd rather be out with that other guy
that she saw last week. Boy, what a terrible thing that would be if she did
want to be with him instead of me!' And then, once she made those comments on that frown being on my face and how gloomy I was, I started saying to myself: Well, that finishes it. Not only does she like this other guy
better than me, probably, but she thinks I'm a killjoy even when I'm with
her. After this sort 'of thing, she'll never want to see me again, for sure. And
that will prove, once and for all, what a jerk I am.' "

130 A Guide To Rational Living


"You certainly were giving it to yourself good, weren't you? A fine double
dose!"
"You can say that again, Doc. That's what I was doing for fair. But for
once I caught it-yes, I really caught it! 'Look what you're saying to yourself!' I thought. 'Just as the Doc pointed out. Boy, what malarkey! Suppose
she does like this other guy better than you-what does that' really prove
about you? And suppose she doesn't like my gloomy face. Does that show
that I'm a hopeless idiot and that Ill never make it again with her? Now
why don't I stop telling myself this junk and do my best to be my old
pleasanter self again. Then I can see if she really wants me rather than this
other guy. And if she wants him rather than me, that's tough: but it's not
fatal. Ill live:
'Well, would you believe it, Doc? Within no more than five minutesmaybe even less-I actually stopped that depression cold. Every other time
I've got like that I've gone into a real doozy of a miserable time, with sick
headache and all. But not this time! Within no time at all, I was actually
smiling and joshing the pants off my girl. And we finally had just about the
best day we ever had and she told me that she just didn't want to see the
other fellow at all again since being with me was such fun. You know, Doc,
I'm even thinking of marrying her now. But the main thing is me: you
said I could control my darned depressions, and blast it if I can't. That's
the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Thus did one person learn to observe his own thinking and, at times, control his negative emotions. Other techniques that can be used to this same
end may be noted as follows:
1. When faced with actual physical injury, deprivation, pain, or disease,
you can attempt either to eliminate or to rectify your painful circumstances,
or, if they are not rectifiable to accept them philosophically and try, as best
you can, to ignore or distract yourself from them. Instead of telling yourself:
"Oh, what a frightful thing is happening to me," you can instead say to yourself (and others), "It is too bad that I am in this unfortunate situation. So
it is too bad!"
2. When faced with non-physical assaults from without, then you can
first question the motives of your attackers and the truth of their statements;
and if you honestly think that their attacks are warranted, then you can try
to change yourself to meet their criticisms or accept your own limitations
and the consequent displeasure of others that sometimes accompanies such
limitations.
3. When you are, for any reason, overwhelmed with anxiety, anger, depression, or guilt, you should always realize that it is invariably not outward
people and events that are causing you to feel these negative emotions, but
your own illogical internalized sentences. Even in the midst of these feelCONTROLLING YOUR OWN DESTINY

ings, you can still generally look objectively at your own verbalizations,
ferret out the irrational links in their chains (the shoulds, oughts, and musts
which you have illegitimately woven into them), and vigorously question
and challenge these irrationalities.
The main point, in sum, which you must note and believe in this connection is that you are in your own saddle. You can never expect to be deliriously happy at all times in life. Freedom from all physical pain is never
likely to be your lot. But an extraordinary lack of mental and emotional woe
may be yours-if you think that it may be and work for what you believe in.

131

4.

Conquering Anxiety

our associates often try to confound us on one special


point, where they feel that our technique of rational-emotive therapy comes
a cropper and sadly begins to bog down. "You may be quite right," they
say, "in insisting that most human difficulties are caused by the illogical
sentences we tell ourselves and that we can overcome our difficulties by
changing these sentences. But what about anxiety? How can we possibly
control or change that by challenging and questioning our own assumptions? That's one human trait you'll never be able to change very much, no
matter how rationally you approach it."
But these critics are wrong. Anxiety is approachable and controllable by
straight thinking. For anxiety, basically, consists of Irrational Idea No.6:
The idea that if something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, one should
be terribly occupied with and upset about it.
This is not to say that real or rational fears do not exist. They certainly do.
When you are about to cross a busy intersection, you would be insane not to
fear the possibility of getting hit by a moving vehicle; and you would be
equally crazy if you were not to some extent concerned about your safety.
Fear of this sort is not only a natural and somewhat instinctive human tendency, but also a necessity for self-preservation. Without your being, in any
circumstance whatever, duly fearful or concerned about your safety, it is
unlikely that your days on this earth would long continue.
Nonetheless: fear is not anxiety. Anxiety consists of over-concern, of exaggerated or needless fear. And it most frequently, in this society, is not reOUR PATIENTS AND

132
CONQUERING ANXIETY

133

lated to physical injury or illness but to mental "injury" or "harm." In fact,


probably 98 percent of what we call anxiety in modern life is little more than
over-concern for what someone thinks about you. And this kind of anxiety,
as well as exaggerated fear of bodily injury, is quite illogical on several
counts:
1. If there is a possibility that something truly is or may be dangerous or
fearsome, there are only two intelligent approaches you may take: (a) determine whether this thing actually is dangerous to your well-being; and
(b) if it is, then either do something practical to alleviate the existing danger or (if absolutely nothing can be done) resign yourself to the fact of its
existence. Bellyaching about it or continually reiterating to yourself the
holy horror of a potentially or actually fearsome situation will not in any
way change it or better prepare you to cope with it. On the contrary, the
more you upset yourself about the existence of this dangerous situation, the
less able you will be, in almost all instances, to assess it accurately and to

cope with it.


2. Although it is perfectly true that certain accidents and illnesses (such
as airplane accidents or the onset of cancer) may befall you one day, and
that it will be quite unfortunate if one of these misfortunes does occur; once
you have taken reasonable precautions to ward off such a possible mishap
there is simply nothing else that you can usually do about it. Worry, believe it or not, has no magical quality of staving off bad luck. On the contrary, it frequently increases the probability of disease or accident by unnerving the vulnerable individual. Thus, the more you worry about getting
into an automobile crackup the more likely you are, if you are driving the
car (from either the front or the back seat!), to get yourself into just such
a crackup.
3. The assumed catastrophic quality of most potentially unpleasant
events is almost invariably highly exaggerated. -The worst thing that can
happen to you in life is usually death-and sooner or later you will have to
die anyway. If you are truly in dire physical pain for a long period of time
(as when you have an incurable cancerous condition and cannot find relief
in drugs), you can always commit suicide. Virtually all misfortunes other
than these which people continually worry about-such as loss of a loved
one, missing a boat, or having a tooth pulled-turn out to be, when they
actually occur, far less dreadful than one may have worriedly dreamed
them up to be for a long time before their occurrence. The worst thing
about almost any "disaster" is usually your exaggerated belief in its horror
rather than anything intrinsically terrible about it. Life holds innumerable pains in the neck for all of us; but terrors, horrors, and catastrophes
are almost entirely figments of our worried imaginations.
4. Worry itself is probably the most dreadful condition with which a

134 A Guide To Rational Living


human being can exist; and most of us would probably be literally better
off dead than "living" in its continual throes. If you are ever faced with the
real danger of blackmail, injury, or death, and there is no possible way to
avoid the issues involved, then you would better frankly and fearlessly face
up to your problems, and accept whatever penalties (such as possible legal
consequences) may accrue from facing them, rather than continue to live
in fear. A life in jail or even no life whatever may well be preferable to
spending the rest of your days running, hiding, and panting with fear.
5. Aside from the possibility of physical harm, what is there really ever
to be afraid of? So people may disapprove of or dislike you. So some of them
may boycott you or say nasty things about you. So your reputation may be
besmirched, your name be considered mud. Tough; disadvantageous;
rough. As long as you do not literally starve, or go to jail, or be harmed
bodily by their censure, why give yourself a super-hard time about the
wheels that turn in their heads? If you stop worrying and do something
about their possible disapproval, the chances are that you will sooner or
later counteract it. If there is nothing that can be done: tough again. That's
the way the cards fall. Why make the game of life so much more difficult
by fretting and stewing about its existing inequities?
6. Although many things seem terribly fearful to a young child, who
has little or no control over his destiny, an adult is usually not in this precarious position and can either change the truly fearful circumstances of his
life; or, if these are not changeable, can philosophically learn to live under
such conditions without making himself panicky about them. Human
adults do not have to keep reactivating fears that may have been fairly
realistic in some earlier period of their lives but that are no longer valid.
Mrs. J. T. Borengrad provides us with an illustration of the foolish perpetuation of fears that were once realistic but that, at the time she came for
psychotherapy, had no objective validity. As a child, she had learned to
take whatever was said or done with hardly a word of protest because she
had a sadistic father who would severely punish her for the slightest questioning of his authority. Then (quite likely because she believed she deserved no better) she married an equally sadistic man and remained with
him for ten years until he became openly psychotic and had to be committed
to a mental hospital, leaving her the full responsibility of rearing their two
young daughters.
During both her childhood and her first marriage, then, Mrs. Borengrad
lived under truly fearful circumstances. But not so during her second marriage. For a meeker man than Mr. Borengrad could scarcely be found; and
he hardly ever lifted his eyebrow at her. Nonetheless, she became exceptionally disturbed and came to therapy in a veritable state of panic. Having
CONQUERING ANXIETY

135

majored in psychology in college, she stated her symptoms in somewhat


sophisticated terms:
"It looks like I'm behaving exactly like Pavlov's dogs. I apparently got
conditioned to react to anyone close to me with fear and trembling, with
submission and underlying resentment, and I am going through the old
conditioned response business over and over. Even though my husband is
the kindest man in the world, and my teenage daughters are almost like
lovely little dolls, I live in constant generalized fear. Ring the bell just before
presenting the steak, and pretty soon the dog slobbers for the food he knows
he's going to get. Well, ring the bell with me, and I immediately cringe with
terror-even though the sadistic treatment I used to receive from my father
and my first husband no longer follows its ringing. Just being present with
any member of my family, bell or no bell, I quickly start cringing."
"Maybe it looks like conditioning to you," the therapist said, "but my own

feeling is that the very word conditioning is so vague and general that it
actually masks the detailed processes that are going on. Now let's look
much more closely at these so-called conditioning processes. First, let's
see what used to go on with your father and your first husband."
"They would get angry at some little thing that I did or didn't do, I
noticed their anger, then I also saw how they followed it up-by punishing
me severely in some manner. Then, naturally, whenever I began to see that
they were growing angry, I immediately became very fearful of the punishment that would follow. And I either ran away or went into a panic state
or asked them to beat me quickly and get the horrible thing over with."
"All right; that's a good description. But you left out a very important
part of the process."
"What's that?"
"Well, you said that they got angry; and you knew you would be punished; and then you went into a panic state. But the second part of the
process-the part where you knew that you would be punished-is being
glossed over too easily. What you really mean, don't you, is that you perceived their anger and then, in a split-second, you told yourself something
like: 'Oh, my heavens! There he goes again, getting angry at me for practically nothing. And now he's going to punish me for doing practically
nothing. Oh, how terrible! Oh, how unfair! What a poor miserable, helpless
creature I am to have an unfair father (or husband, as the case might be)
who takes advantage of me like this and against whom I am too weak to
protect myself!" Isn't this, or something much like this, what you said to
yourself once you perceived your father's or your first husband's anger?"
"Yes, I'm sure you're right about that. Particularly with my father, I
would tell myself how awful it was that I had a father like that, while
Minerva Scanlan, my best girlfriend, had such a nice, easy-going father

136 A Guide To Rational Living


who never even yelled at her and certainly never hit her or punished her in
any other way. I was so ashamed to have a father like mine. And I thought
I came from such a terrible family-so bad, in fact, that I wouldn't even
want Minerva or anyone else to know just how bad they were and how
badly they treated me."
"And with your first husband?"
"There, too. Only this time I wasn't so ashamed of him but of my marrying him. I kept saying, whenever he got angry and I knew he was about to
pounce on me, 'Oh, how could I ever have been so stupid as to marry anyone like him. After I saw so much of this kind of thing at home, too! And
then I went right out and repeated this horrible mistake, voluntarily. And
now I'm staying with him, when I should have the guts to leave, even if I
have to work my hands to the bone to take care of the children myself. How
could I have been so stupid!' "
"All right, then. Note how we not only have the stimulus, the anger of
your father and your first husband, and the conditioned response, your
great fear of punishment, but we also and more importantly have your selfblaming interpretations of the horror of the stimulus. Thus, whereas you
theoretically could have told yourself, 'There goes crazy old dad getting
angry again, and he's probably going to punish me unjustly. Well, too bad;
but I can survive his punishment and eventually, as I grow up, get away
from him and live in a non-punishing environment: You actually largely
said to yourself, 'I'm to blame for coming from such a crazy family and for
being so weak as to let the old buzzard take advantage 'of me: And, with
your first husband, whereas you could have said to yourself, 'Too bad: I
made a mistake in marrying this sadistic individual; but I'm strong enough
to get away from him and leave him to his own sick ways: You again said:
'I'm to blame for making this terrible mistake of marrying this bastard; and
now I'm too weak and idiotic to get away from him: "
'What you seem to be saying, then, is that it wasn't necessarily the actions
of my father and my husband-their anger followed by their punishmentthat conditioned me to be so upset when I was with either of them, but
really my own unjustified interpretations of their actions:'
"Yes, your own partly unjustified interpretations. For you were, of course,
especially when you lived with your father, a little girl who appropriately
should have been scared of your father's physical assaults; and no matter
what you might have philosophically told yourself at the time, you were in
some real danger, and it would have been inappropriate for you not to be
frightened at all:'
"But that was not exactly the case when I was married to my first husband:'
"You're quite right: it wasn't. Again, with him, you might have had a little
CONQUERING ANXIETY

137

reason for fear, since he was psychotic and he could have literally killed
you when he got angry. But as you yourself pointed out before, you also
could have easily, or with some but not too much difficulty, left him-which
was not true when you were a girl living in your father's home. So much of
the so-called conditioned' fear with your husband was distinctly your own
doing: the result of your falsely telling yourself that you couldn't cope with
the situation, were a dunce for having married him in the first place, and
were a slob for staying with him. If you had told yourself other and more
sensible things than this, you would soon have left him-or might even
have stayed and been very unafraid of him."
"Conditioning: then, is something of a cover-up word for what we
largely do to ourselves?"
"Yes, very often. In Pavlov's case, don't forget that he, Pavlov, conditioned
the dogs from the outside: he completely controlled the event of whether
they would or would not get their piece of steak when the bell rang. And

in the case of your father, since he was much bigger and stronger than you,
he also largely controlled the event of whether or not you would be severely
beaten once he got angry. But not entirely! For had you had a better and
different philosophy of living when you were with your father-which not
very many but some few young girls of your age do somehow manage to
acquire-you could have (unlike Pavlov's dogs) changed the situation
considerably. Thus, you could have somehow influenced your father and
induced him to punish one of your brothers or sisters, rather than you; or
you could have managed literally to run out of the house most of the times
you knew he was about to punish you; or you could have accepted your
punishment more stoically and not been too bothered by it; or you could
have tried many other gambits to change or ameliorate the effects of your
father's behavior. But because of your poor philosophy of life at the timewhich, to be sure, your father among others helped you acquire--you
passively submitted to his blows-and also blamed yourself for having
such a father and for having to submit. So although your situation was
indeed fearful, you helped make it positively terrifying."
"I can see what you mean. And with my first husband, I guess, I did even
worse. There, I didn't have to submit at all; but I just about forced myselfwith what you again would call my poor philosophy of life-to do so, and
again to be absolutely terrified."
"Exactly. Although only some of your so-called 'conditioning' was selfeffected in 'your relations with your father, probably the far greater part
of it was self-wrought in your relations with your first husband. Where you
could have nicely unconditioned yourself with him-by telling yourself
how ridiculous it was for you to stay with and suffer the punishments of such

138 A Guide To Rational Living


a palpably disturbed man-you did the reverse and worked very hard to
condition yourself still more."
"And what about my present state, with my second husband?"
"Your present state is an even better proof of the thesis we have been
discussing than anything else. For you will remember, again, that in the
case of Pavlov's dogs, when he kept presenting the bell without the steak,
the dogs soon became unconditioned and stopped salivating, since they
soon realized, or somehow signaled themselves, that the steak and the bell
did not go together any longer. Accordingly, therefore, if you had been
classically conditioned by the experiences with your father and first husband, both of whom were tyrants, you should have gradually got quite
unconditioned by your several years of experience with your second husband, who is practically an angel when compared with the first two."
"He actually is. Unbelievably nice and un-punishing."
"But your merely being in his or your daughters' presence, you say,
causes you to go into a state of panic?"
"Yes, I can't understand it. But that's just what happens."
"I am sure that you really can understand it, if you look a little more
closely, and stop convincing yourself that you are 'automatically' conditioned by your past experiences. For if your husband's behavior is obviously
not reinforcing your previously learned fear, and this fear still actively
persists, then you must be doing something to reinforce it, to keep it alive,
yourself."
"You really think I am?"
"You must be-unless we believe in some kind of magic. If you, as we just
noted, were at least partly instrumental in setting up the original terrible
fear of your father and your husband, even though they certainly also contributed mightily to the situational context of the fear, and if your present
husband is not contributing to that context to any serious degree, who else
but you is keeping the fear alive?"
"Hmm. I see what you mean. And what do you think that I'm telling myself to keep my fear alive?"
"What do you think? I am sure that if you start asking yourself you will
soon start to see."
"What occurs to me, first of all, is that I am probably telling myself, or
still telling myself, what you pointed out before: that I always was too weak
and inadequate to do anything about myself and that 1 still am. And that
therefore I do have something to be afraid of-my own weakness."
"That's a good point. These things usually become circular, just as you
indicated. First, your father abuses you, then you tell yourself you can't
do anything to stop his abuse, then you get terribly fearful. But, once you
get fearful, and you only half-heartedly try to overcome your fear, you start
CONQUERING ANXIETY

telling yourself that you can't do anything about that. So you get fearful of
becoming, and of not being able to do anything about becoming, fearful.
Quite a pickle!"
"You know, I think that's exactly it. I used to be fearful of my father and
my first husband-though really, as you're pointing out, of myself, of my
weakness. And now I'm fearful of remaining fearful-of remaining weak.
And even though my present husband and daughters are not abusing me,
I'm afraid that I couldn't handle the situation if they did abuse me. I'm so
afraid of being inadequate-and so afraid of being afraid-that I make
myself panicky most of the time."
"Precisely. Then, probably, to take it one step further, you actually do
get so frightened, and act so badly because you're frightened, that you then
become convinced of your original hypothesis-that because you're so weak
and inadequate, no one could ever possibly love you, including, especially,
your own present husband and daughters."

139

"So I really start with a great need to be loved and a fear that, because
I'm so worthless, I won't get this need fulfilled. Then because of my fear I
behave badly. Then I note that I behave badly and say to myself: 'That
proves how worthless I am!' Then, because I have doubly proved my 'worthlessness,' I get even more afraid that I won't be loved the next time. And so
on, and on."
"Right. And then, going one step further, you hate yourself for being so
weak and for having such a dire need for love; and you resent your present
husband and daughters for not fulfilling your dire need to the exact extent
you demand that they fill it-and for not making up for all the anger and
punishment that your father and your first husband foisted on you. So that,
mixed in with your terror, is a goodly degree of resentment-which only
tends to make you still more upset."
"As you said before: Quite a pickle! But what do I do now to get out of it?"
"What do you think you do? If you're telling yourself sentences 1, 2, 3,
and 4 to get result Number 5, and result Number 5 is highly undesirable,
how do you manage not to get it again?"
"By un-telling myself sentences 1, 2, 3, and 4!"
"Yes-or by challenging and questioning their validity."
"I have to ask myself, then, why I am so weak and worthless and why I
can't stand anyone's anger."
"Yes. And also 'Why don't I deserve, now, to have a mild and cooperative husband and daughters?' And: 'Why, if I do happen to get frightened
because I remind myself of some past threat that really doesn't exist any
more, can't I then see what I am doing, and calm myself down pretty
quickly?' "
"And if I try this kind of questioning and challenging and persist at it,

140 A Guide To Rational Living


then there's no reason why I have to continue to live in this kind of panic
state I've been forcing myself into for such a long time?"
"No, no reason at all. Try it and see. And if it works, as I'm sure it will, that
will be great. And if it doesn't then we'll quickly discover what other nonsense you are telling yourself to stop it from working."
"The main thing, if I understand you correctly, is that no matter what
upsets me or what I am frightened at, it is now my own doing, It may not
have been in the past. But it now is."
"In the main, yes. Occasionally, you may have a truly fearful circumstance
in your life-as when you are on a sinking boat or in a car that is about to
have a head-on collision with another car. But these kinds of realistic fears
are rather rare in modem life; and the great majority of the things we now
get panicked about are self-created 'dangers' that exist almost entirely in
our own imaginations. These are your own doing; and these may invariably
be undone by looking at your crooked thinking and straightening it out."
"O.K. What you say sounds reasonable. Let me do a little trying."
Mrs. Borengrad did try. Within the next several weeks she not only
ceased being terrified when in the presence of her daughters and her present
husband, but was able to do several other things, including making a public
speech at her community center, a thing which she had never been able to
do before in her life. She learned, and as the years go by she still continues
to learn, that unlike Pavlov's dogs she can recondition or un-condition her
feelings and her responses from the inside and that she does not have to
respond to someone else's actual or possible anger with woeful feelings of
fright.
In general, the most effective kinds of counterattacks against any needless
and inappropriate fears that you may have may be taken along the following
lines:
1. Track your worries and anxieties back to the specific sentences of
which they consist. Invariably, you will find that you are telling yourself:
"Isn't it terrible that-" or "Wouldn't it be awful if_". Forcefully ask yourself: "Why would it be so terrible that-?" and "Would it really be so
awful if_?" Certainly, if this or that happened it might well be inconvenient, annoying, or unfortunate. But would it really be catastrophic?
2. When a situation actually is fearful-as when you are about to take
a trip in a rickety old airplane-then the only sensible things to do are (a)
change the situation (for example, don't take the trip) or (b) accept the
danger as one of the unfortunate facts of life (thus, accept the fact that you
may be killed in the rickety plane; that this is too bad if you are; but that life,
to be reasonably lived, must be replete with considerable risk-taking). If
a danger can be minimized, act to reduce it. If it cannot be minimized,
or it would be more disadvantageous for you to avoid it than to risk it, then
CONQUERING ANXIETY
141
you have little or no choice and you'd first better accept it. No matter how
you slice it, the inevitable is still inevitable; and no amount of worrying
will make it less so.
3. If a dire event may occur, and you can do no more than you have already done to ward it off, then realistically weigh the chances of its occurring and realistically assess the calamity that will befall you if it actually
does occur. Although another world war may occur tomorrow, what are the
chances that it will? If it does occur, what is the likelihood that you will
be maimed or killed? If you are killed, will it really be much more catastrophic than your peacefully dying in bed ten or twenty years later?
4. To overcome a specific anxiety, verbal and active de-propagandization
are usually essential. You must first realize that you created the anxiety by
your internalized sentences, and you must vigorously and persistently ferret
out these sentences and challenge and contradict them. Then you must also
push yourself to do the thing you are senselessly afraid of and act against

your fear.
Thus, if you are afraid to ride on buses, you must realize that your overconcern is rooted in your own negative propaganda: in your telling yourself
that busses are dangerous, that horrible things can happen to you in a bus,
that if anything dreadful did happen on a bus you would not be able to
stand it, and so on. And you must contradict this nonsense by showing yourself that busses are not very dangerous; that very few people are injured
while riding on them; that if an unpleasant event occurs on a bus, you can
handle it; and so forth. Finally, however, you must force yourself, over and
over again, to keep riding on busses and to keep telling yourself, while
riding, rational counterpropaganda to eradicate your irrational self-sentences. The more you do the things you are afraid of while logically parsing
and contradicting your self-imposed fearfulness, the quicker and more
thoroughly your needless anxieties will vanish.
5. Most modern anxieties are intimately related to the underlying or
overt dread of making public mistakes, of antagonizing others, of losing
love. You should always suspect that some dire fear of disapproval lies
behind your seemingly more objective fears and should continually and
powerfully challenge and fight this basic anxiety of our time.
6. It is best to convince yourself-since this is invariably true-that
worrying about many situations will definitely aggravate rather than improve them. If, instead of telling yourself how awful it would be if something happened, you tell yourself how silly, senseless, and self-defeating it
will be if you keep worrying about this "awful" thing, you will have a much
better chance of short-circuiting your irrational anxieties.
7. Try not to exaggerate the importance or significance of things. Your
favorite cup, as Epictetus noted many centuries ago, is merely a cup of

142 A Guide To Rational Living


which you are fond and your wife and children, however delightful, are
mortal human beings. You need not take a negativistic, defensive so-what
attitude and falsely tell yourself: "So what if I break my cup or my wife
and children die? Who cares?" For you should care for your cup and your
wife and children and will lead a more zestful and absorbing life if you do.
But if you exaggeratedly convince yourself that this is the only cup in the
world or that your life would be completely useless and worthless without
your wife and children, you will only be falsely overestimating the value
of undeniably good things and making yourself needlessly vulnerable to
their possible loss.
It is good to remember, in this connection, that to enjoy a positive event
wholeheartedly does not mean that you must catastrophize its absence.
You may enjoy your cup, your wife, and your children wholeheartedly and
truly care for them. But their sudden removal, although certainly a distinct
loss and something that you should considerably regret, need not be
calamitous. This loss, however difficult, merely removes something that you
ardently desire and love-it does not remove you. Unless, of course, you
insist on identifying yourself with the people and things you love; and that
kind of identification is emotional sickness.
8. Distraction, as we noted in the last chapter, may be a good temporary
dissipater of groundless fear. If you are worrying about your plane's falling, forcing yourself to concentrate on a magazine or a book may give you
some respite. If you are afraid that you are not making a good public speech,
vigorous focusing on the content of your talk rather than on the reactions of
your audience will often calm your fears. For deeper and more lasting removal of anxieties, however, a thoroughgoing philosophic approach, along
the lines previously noted in this chapter, will be much more effective.
9. Tracking your present fears to their earlier origins, and seeing how
though they were once fairly appropriate they no longer hold water, is often
a useful anxiety-reducing technique. When you were a child, you normally
feared many things, such as being in the dark or arguing with an adult. But
you are now no longer a child. Keep showing yourself this and demonstrating that you can easily take certain chances now that it might have been
foolhardy for you to take some years ago.
10. Don't be ashamed of still existing anxieties, no matter how senseless
they may seem. Certainly it is wrong, meaning mistaken, for a grown person like you to retain childish fears. But wrong or mistaken does not mean
criminal or blameworthy. And if people dislike you because you are anxious,
that is largely their problem and is again nothing to worry about. Admit, by
all means, that you are needlessly fearful; forthrightly tackle your silly
worries; but don't waste a minute beating yourself over the head for being,
CONQUERING ANXIETY

for the nonce, afraid. You have much better things to do with your time and
energies!
11. No matter how effectively at times you combat your anxieties, and
temporarily eradicate them, do not be surprised if they return from time to
time. It is the nature of almost all human beings to fear again, at least from
time to time, what they have once feared in the past, even though in general
they are no longer afraid of this thing (Solomon and Wynne). If you once
had a fear of high places and you conquered it by deliberately frequenting
such places, you may still, on occasion, become afraid when looking down
from heights. This is perfectly usual and expectable. In these circumstances,
merely accept the returned fear, thinkingly and actively go to work on it
again as you have done in the past, and you will quickly see, in most instances, that it returns to limbo.
Always remember, in this connection, that you are a mortal being; that
humans have innate limitations; that they never completely overcome
groundless fears and anxieties; and that life is a ceaseless battle against

143

irrational worries. If you fight this battle intelligently and unremittingly,


however, you can almost always be free from almost all your needless
concerns. What more can you ask of a good life?

Acquiring SelfDiscipline

16

THE EASY WAY out

is usually just that-the easy way out of the most rewarding satisfactions of life. Yet many-perhaps most-people swear by what
we call Irrational Idea No.7: The idea that it is easier to avoid facing many
life difficulties and self-responsibilities than to undertake more rewarding
forms of self-discipline. This idea is fallacious in several significant respects.
First of all, the notion that the easiest way out of life difficulties is the
best way only considers at the very most, the case 'Of action or avoidance at
the exact moment of decision-and not in all the subsequent moments,
hours, and days that are bound to follow this decision. Augie Mallick, for
example, kept convincing himself that it would be terrible if the girl he had
known for several years rejected his physical overtures. Every time he
thought of putting his arm around her or holding her hand, he would be
overwhelmed by his fear of rejection and would take the "easy" way out
by drawing away from her. At the exact moment of his withdrawal, he
sighed with relief. But for the rest of the night with her, and often fur many
nights following, he loathed himself and suffered the torments of the
damned for his one moment of "ease." Short-run avoidance of fearful and
difficult circumstances usually, in the long run, brings on far greater conllicts and self-annoyances.
By avoiding certain difficulties of life, moreover, you almost always tend
to exaggerate their pain and discomfort. If Augie Mallick does take a
chance, puts his arm around his girlfriend, and actually gets rejected by
her will this rejection actually hurt him as much as, in imagination, he thinks

144

145

ACQUIRING SELF-DISCIPLINE

it will? If he keeps getting rejected, will he still feel just as hurt? If he does

get hurt, will his whole world fall apart? Almost certainly, if he keeps trying, the hard way, to win the favor of his girl, he will find that the answer to
those questions is a pretty solid No.
Let us assume, again, that Augie does try, is rejected, and does get hurt
(or, more accurately stated, does hurt himself by over-emphasizing the
necessity of his getting accepted). Even so: will his self-hurt, as a result of
his being rejected, be worse than his self-hurt as a result of his not trying?
Probably not.
Still again: if Augie tries and fails, he will almost certainly learn something by his failure, while if he never tries, he will doubtless learn nothing.
If he does things the hard way, his girl will probably ultimately accept
him. And if she doesn't, the knowledge he acquires from being rejected by
her, may well enable him to succeed with some other girl. Only if every
single girl that he could ever possibly try to make an overture toward rejects him, will he have little or no gain from his experience; and this likelihood is infinitely small.
In the normal course of events, if Augie keeps trying, even against odds,
he will ultimately succeed with some girl; while if he gives up quickly and
foredooms himself to celibacy, his life will be a classic example of nothing
ventured, nothing gained. But if he does venture, some kind of satisfaction
will almost certainly be his; and quite possibly his gains will be enormous.
Few of life's outstanding gratifications are achieved without taking considerable risks and facing distinct difficulties. Augie, in terms of time and
energies expended, has his choice of: put up or shut up. And the less he
puts up, the less he generally will fulfill his aliveness.
Similarly with the more negative side of the coin of self-discipline. If
Janice, who wants to lose weight refuses to go through the continued difficulties of dieting, she will seemingly be taking the "easy" way out. But
while she still enjoys her eating, will she also enjoy lugging around twenty
extra pounds (particularly in summer), losing some of her best beaus to
slimmer and trimmer girls, feeling tired and "blah" much of the time, and
being a victim of several possible illnesses and ailments that often go with
an overweight condition?
The story, then, is almost always the same when an individual takes the
"easier" or un-selfdisciplined way out of his life difficulties and responsibilities. Either his "easier" way is, in the long run, actually harder; or it
continues to be easier-that is, less consuming of time and energy-but is
also considerably less rewarding.
Take, by way of example, the case of Elmer Pinkham, a bright and potentially capable law school student who came to see me (R.A.H.) some
years ago. He was an addict of the easy-way approach to life and knew all

146 A Guide To Rational Living


the angles of work-avoidance. Instead of buckling down to his studies, he
spent considerable time learning the peculiarities of his professors-what
they liked and did not like-so that he could induce them to give him good
grades in spite of his continual goofing.
At the time Elmer came to see me he was having an affair with a fellow
student but was finding the going rough. "Sally," he said, "is a great kid, but
she is a very dependent character. I just can't have an ordinary affair with
her-she's moved in. I mean completely moved in. I just am unable to get
anything done any more. Not that I do much studying anyway; but with her
around, I do absolutely none. We just make love, period. What I mean is
period. And she's a pain in the hindquarters as well, since she wants me at
her beck and call every single moment of the day and night and I can
hardly go to the john without her tagging along. Other girls, whom I would
like to see too from time to time, are absolutely out with Sally camping on
my tail."
"If you find your relationship with Sally is interfering with your longterm plans to finish school and pass your bar exam and with your desire to
have more time to yourself, why don't you get to work either to change the
relationship with her or drop it?" I asked.
"I can't change it," Elmer replied. "Sally is just the way she is. She clings
like a baby. There is no other way to relate to her. And I couldn't drop herI just couldn't face her tears and her hysteria. Why, she'd be wailing around
for weeks. And with some of the things she knows about me, how I cheated
on some of my law exams and that sort of things, she might cause trouble
too. I just couldn't go through the trouble of facing her and getting her to
leave me."
"But with things the way they are, you say she's much more of a bother
than she's worth. And, granted that it might be difficult to get rid of her,
don't you think that it would be worth it in the long run."
"Yeah, I suppose so. But I wouldn't want to do it that way. I'd rather
half keep her, you know. She is damned good in bed. And if I could only
have less of her and not have her around all the time, that might be great.
But how can I have it that way?"
"You mean: how can you have your cake and eat it? Isn't that what you
really want?"
"Well, that's one way to put it. But maybe I can. Maybe there's an angle
that I could work so that I could still have Sally, sort of on a part-time
basis, and not be bothered by her so much or kept from seeing other girls
sometimes."
"I can see you've already figured something out. Something real cute, no
doubt! Now what's your plan?"
'Well, Doc, like this. I was thinking that if you would call Sally in and
ACQUIRING SELFDISCIPLINE

147

tell her you have diagnosed my problems and all that jazz and that you
think it's necessary that she stop living with me, but just come around a
couple of times a week, and stop being so sticky with me, you know-.
Well, I thought you could fix it up with her so that I could still not have to
give her up, not go through getting her all upset like, and keep the best part
of our relationship going."
"You want me to help you do things the easy way with Sally. So that you
won't have to face any responsibilities or difficulties and yet get exactly what
you want. And you want me to sell Sally a bill of goods, so that she will be
willing to accept half a loaf while you have your usual loaf and a half."
'Well, it would be easier on Sally that way, too, wouldn't it? She wouldn't
get hurt or anything and would understand my position. You could easily
arrange it, from your side. Such things must be all in your day's routine."
"It may surprise you to know," I said, "that my routine tends to run along
other lines than being a kind of psychotherapeutic con man, easy-going

fix-it expert, and emotional blackmailer. On the contrary, I help people to


face and do things the hard way-because in the long run that way generally
brings inner security and happiness. If I did what you want me to do not
only would I be depriving you of the glorious opportunity to buckle down,
for perhaps the first time in your life, to solving this difficult situation you
are in and gaining some confidence that you actually can face and resolve
tough situations that you encounter; but I would also be conniving to help
Sally avoid making her own difficult decisions about whether to accept you
on your terms or go on being the big baby she is. So my answer is a flat No.
I intend to do you the service of forcing you, if possible, to face life's music
this time, so that you may learn how to cope with it and yourself for a change
and modify some of your obviously self-defeating, short-range hedonism."
"I am surprised at your attitude," Elmer said. "You have a reputation for
being a liberal among psychologists. I've heard this from several people at
the university. And yet you are giving me that old character-building song
and dance. That old crap about 'chin up, sweet, clean, puritanical bird in
the hand of God; work hard, be a good Christian, and youll get a crumb
from Jesus in the hereafter!' "
"You have the privilege of distorting what I say, if you wish. What I am
saying, however, is this: The line of least resistance that you keep continually taking, in your school work, in your relations with Sally, and in some
other aspects of your life that you've told me about is, almost certainly, not
going to bring you what you really seem to want (and what you beautifully
hide from yourself) out of life: namely, self-confidence and truly rewarding
relationships with others. Whether you like it or not (and I am sure that
you don't), you will not get maximum enjoyment in your work or your
sex-love affairs until you learn to face the realities and difficulties of this

148 A Guide To Rational Living


world, figure out the best way of meeting instead of avoiding them, and act
courageously and decisively in regard to them. This may sound to you like
a philosophy of puritanical punishment, work for work's sake, and character-building for your heavenly salvation. But it's not. It's just one of the
hard and cold facts of this highly unheavenly world."
Maybe so, but I think I can do better than that. And I think I'll find another therapist with less austere ideals. There must be an easier road to
happiness than the one you insist upon."
That's the last I heard of Elmer. For all I know, he is still shopping for the
easy way of life and a less austere therapist to help him climb its roads. I
would be willing to wager, however, that life will someday catch him
up on his short selling of it and himself. At that time, if he has not softened
himself up too much for eventual tackling of his basic problems, he may return for some serious psychotherapy. I'll probably still be at the old stand,
with my "character-building" approach to life; and I shall, if he wants me
to, be glad to welcome him back.
If avoidance of life difficulties and self-responsibilities leads, in most
instances, to less rewarding activities and decreased self-confidence, full
acceptance of the "harder" way of life is the only sensible and rational
procedure. More specifically, this involves the following kinds of activities:
1. Although the taking on of needless tasks and responsibilities is not to
be highly recommended, and is often a manifestation of masochism, you
should determine what are the truly necessary activities of life-and then
unrebellingly and promptly perform them. Necessary life tasks usually include: (a) tasks which are strictly necessary, such as eating, defecating,
building a shelter from the cold, and so forth; and (b) tasks which are not
strictly necessary for survival but that must be performed if one wishes
to obtain desired goals. For example, brushing one's teeth to ensure their
not decaying, or commuting in order to live in the country and work in the
city.
2. Once you decide that a goal is necessary for your survival or highly
desirable for your happiness (and not because others think you should attain it), self-discipline in regard to this goal can be attained by vigorous
self-propagandization and forced action. In particular, you must first ferret
out and forcefully attack your main undisciplining internal verbalizations:
the nonsense that you keep telling yourself along the lines of "It is easier
for me to remain the way I am," "I don't believe that I can discipline myself," and "Why should 1 have to do these unpleasant things in order to get
the pleasant results I desire?" Instead, you must acquire a philosophy of life
represented by these kinds of sentences: "It is definitely harder and less
rewarding, especially in the long run, for me to do things the 'easy way'";
I do have the ability, as a human being, to discipline myself, even though
ACQUIRING SELF-DISCIPLINE

it is quite difficult to do so"; and Whether I like it or not, there is no other


way to get the pleasant results I desire than by doing the unpleasant and
time-consuming requisites to these results."
3. You must face the fact that, because you are a fallible human being,
you often will have great difficulty getting started along a certain constructive line, and that normal principles of inertia will tend to hold you back
and make the starting process quite a chore. You must therefore expect
these problems to occur and prophylactically accept the fact that you will
often have to use extra push and extra energy to get yourself on the road to
self-discipline. Once you get going at brushing your teeth or getting up in
the morning to travel to work, your task will tend to get easier and sometimes, even, enjoyable. But at the start it is not usually easy; and you must
not expect it to be. Easy or not, you must keep convincing yourself that, if
you want to obtain certain present or future results, there simply is no other

149

way and it is to your own advantage (or sometimes your lesser disadvantage) to discipline yourself in a given manner.
4. Once you start on any self-disciplining task, you can sometimes make
things easier for yourself: put yourself on some kind of a regular schedule or
program; give yourself some sub-goals on any major project that you undertake; work on a piece rate basis (for example, force yourself to write so
many pages or do a certain minimum number of exercises a day); or give
yourself some intermediate rewards for your disciplining (permit yourself
to go to a movie after you have completed this much studying or that much
house cleaning for the day).
5. Guard against leaning over backward to be too self-disciplined or to
do things the too hard way in order to achieve some magical rewards for
your self-punishment. Most kinds of rigid adherence to rules, on the one
hand, or inflexible rebelliousness against them, on the other hand, tend to
be a throwing out of the baby with the bathwater and stem from emotional
disturbance. Over-disciplining yourself can be just as self-defeating as
avoidance of necessary discipline,
In sum: it is very difficult for the average or even the above-average
individual to keep fighting against his or her normal tendencies to give up
easily on hard tasks, to put off till tomorrow what really should be done
today, and to slacken self-discipline long before it automatically develops
its own momentum and begins to maintain itself with relatively little effort. All right, so it's hard. But it still continually has to be done if innumerable life responsibilities are to be adequately faced and solved and if longrange hedonism is to be appreciably achieved. And there is no other way.
Avoid or cavil as you may, the piper still must be paid. If your goals and
desires are to be attained, you must accept-and we really mean accept-

150 A Guide To Rational Living


continual sell-discipline. Tough. But that's what being human essentially
means.
The only alternative is self-defeat; and this is the alternative that Oscar
Jimson was taking when he first came to see me (A.E.) several years ago.
Oscar, a young graduate student of psychology, was one of the brightest
patients I ever had. But his Ph.D. thesis was just not getting done and all
the important things he eagerly looked forward to doing in his chosen field
of work were being everlastingly stymied because of what he called "my
goddamned natural laziness." "Could it be," he asked, "that I'm just biologically this way and can't discipline myself the way that others much
more easily can?"
I was not so easily sold on his biological hypothesis. "I doubt it," I said.
"Especially since there are other aspects of your life in which you seem to
do remarkably well in regard to sell-discipline."
"You mean in my teaching?"
"Yes. You told me that in the classes you teach, you work very hard at
preparing your lessons and really put considerable time and effort into
them. And you take great pride in working so hard at it and being such a
good teacher."
"That's right. I do work very hard in that area."
"Then what's this nonsense about 'natural biological laziness'? Obviously,
if you can work hard at preparing your teaching activity you can work just
as hard at writing your thesis and at the various other things you avoid
doing."
"But that's different. In my class, I get an immediate amount of feedback
or reward. My students love me and respond very favorably to the work I
do in their behalf."
"No doubt. And I am sure that you well merit their approval. You give
them something few other teachers do and they appreciate it."
"They really do."
"Great. But you're still proving my point-that when you want to do hard
work, and when your reward for doing it is immediate enough, you have no
trouble disciplining yourself to do it. When, however, the reward is somewhat remote-when the finishing of your Ph.D. thesis is a year or two away,
and your professors are not going to give you much of a pat on the head
until that year or two is up and the work is quite completed-then you
idiotically tell yourself: 'Oh, I'm just naturally lazy. I can't discipline mysell: What you actually mean is, 'I'm so desperately in need of immediate
approval that I won't discipline myself until I have a guaranty that I'm going to get it.' Quite a different picture, isn't it!"
What you say sounds true. But is that the only reason why I'm refusing
ACQUIRING SELF-DISCIPLINE

to work on my thesis and on various other things like that-because I demand immediate love satisfaction before Ill do anything?"
"No, probably not. There are usually other reasons why a human being,
even when he's as bright as you are, will senselessly refuse to discipline himself in certain areas."
"And which of them seem to apply in my case?"
"Well, first of all there's the general principle of inertia. It is hard for people, even unusually sane people, to force themselves to get going and keep
going on a long-term project like a Ph.D. thesis when they know perfectly
well that it will be quite a time before they finish it and before they reap
the rewards of their labor. Little children, you will note, are very difficult
to motivate for any long-range project, no matter how much good it would
do them to persist at it and finish it; and most adults all their lives retain
much of this childish trait."
"So I'm still childish-eh?"
"Yes; but not necessarily in any unusual or abnormal sense. You just have

151

a lot of normal childishness in you; and you are normally reluctant to give it
up. Perhaps that is what you refer to as your 'natural laziness:"
"Could be. But don't we all have some degree of this kind of thing? And
why is mine more than somebody else's?"
"Well, for one thing, like so many highly intelligent individuals, you've
had it a little too good most of your life as far as doing academic work is
concerned. Being bright, you've found that you could get along very well,
especially during grade school and high school, with much less work than
the average child has to do to keep up with his subjects and still get good
marks.
"You're right about that. I practically did no work at all during grade
school and high school and still was always right near the top of my class.
And in college, things were still easy:'
"Exactly. So you didn't need to acquire good work habits until, quite recently, you got into graduate school. And now, since the competition is
keener, and theses just don't write themselves, you do have to develop better work habits in the school area. But, having gotten along so well with a
minimum of scholastic effort, you probably think that it's highly unfair that
you shouldn't still be able to do so. So we come to the next point: you're
rebelling against doing the thesis and some of your other work; you don't
think you should have to exert yourself so much."
''Well, it is tough, isn't it? I never did have to do this kind of thing before."
"Yes, it is tough. So it's tough! But it still must be done-if you are to get
the rewards that you now want. And no amount of childish rebelling is going to make it any easier. Quite the contrary: as you recently have been seeing:'

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A Guide To Rational Living

"True. The more I goof, the more I fall behind, and then the harder it
gets for me to catch up. Besides, my profs at school are becoming more than
a little disgusted with me-and that isn't helping at all."
"It never will. Not only will your kind of dilly-dallying get others, such as
your professors, disgusted with you; but it will tend to have a similar effect
on yourself."
"I'll get disgusted with me, too?"
"Well?"
"Mmm. I see what you mean. Again, you've got me. I have to admit that
as I've kept putting off my dissertation I've been thinking more and more,
"Maybe I can't do it. Maybe it's just not my kind of task. Teaching-yes.
And passing courses. But maybe this kind of thing is just beyond me."
"Par for the course, those kinds of thoughts. First you refuse to buckle
down to the job-because of the normal inertia and the abnormally childish
habit patterns we've been discussing. Then, instead of getting the immediate
approval you greatly crave and which you work your head off to get in your
teaching, you get professorial dis-gruntledness and disgust. Then you say to
yourself, 'You know, maybe I can't discipline myself,' or 'Maybe I can't do
this kind of a project.' Then, because of your inordinate fear of failure, and
your unwillingness to put your own negative hypothesis to the test, you run
further away from working on the thesis rather than facing it. Then you
engender still more professional displeasure and self-disgust. Finally, you're
really caught up in the worst kind of a vicious circle and where you originally were childishly rebelling against doing the work now you're terribly
afraid to try it. End of the line-and practically the end of you-if you
don't stop this nonsense and cut this vicious circle."
You make it sound real sick, my behavior."
"Isnt it?"
"Well-. What can I say?"
"Whatever you say isn't going to change things very much and make your
behavior less sick. The real point is, what are you now going to do?"
"About my natural inertia, my childish rebellion, my inordinate demands
for immediate approval, and my sick thinking that I can't do the thesis,
merely because I've not at all tried to buckle down to do it?"
"Yes, you summarize the case very nicely. Now what are you going to
do about it?"
"I suppose if I told you that 1 was going to stop this sick behavior and get
right down to work on the thesis, you wouldn't believe me?"
"No-not till you actually started to work. But 1 wouldn't disbelieve you,
either. For one thing I know perfectly well-that any person who works as
well as you do in regard to your teaching-can work just as well on a project
like a Ph.D. thesis. So the question is not at all whether you can, but whether
ACQUIRING SELF-DISCIPLINE

you will. And maybe, now that you've been seeing just how inconsistent and
self-defeating you are by not working on your dissertation, maybe you will."
"Goddamn it, I hope I will!"
"Hope is a very nice sentiment; but it's still not enough. You've got to be
determined to overcome your childish rebelliousness and fear of failure.
You've got to be actively determined. Which means actively ferreting out
and vigorously challenging the anti-disciplinary nonsense that you've been
feeding yourself for all these many years."
"You're right again. Action is the real key-word. Well see!"
And we did see. Oscar Jimson got his thesis topic approved within the
next few weeks, quickly buckled down to do his research on it, and a year
later was a newly fledged Ph.D. in experimental psychology. He still is a
fine teacher; and, in addition, one of the most all-around self-disciplined
men I know in his field. Whenever I meet him at psychological conventions
these days he facetiously stands at attention, gives me a Prussian Army salute, and exclaims: "ACTION! WORK! SELF-DISCIPLINE!" Only he's

153

not really so facetious.

Rewriting
Your Personal
17 History

of the most important psychological discoveries


of the past century, emphasized by both the psychoanalytic and the conditioned response (or behaviorist) schools of thinking, has been most harmful to many individuals. And that is the idea that human beings are most importantly influenced, in their present patterns of living, by their past experiences. This perfectly sane and potentially helpful observation has been
time and again used to create and bolster what we call Irrational Idea No.
8: The idea that the past is all-important and that because something once
strongly affected one's life, it should indefinitely do so.
Yesterday, in the course of one of my typical working days, I (A.E.) saw
twelve patients; and every single one of them, to one degree or another, believed that he or she had to be behaving in a certain disturbed way because
of previous conditioning or early influences. A forty-year-old, highly attractive divorcee, for example, told me: "I couldn't possibly be more active in
meeting men, as you are trying to induce me to be, when I've never done
anything of the sort before in my life." A young wife said that she would rather have her husband lose fifty thousand dollars in a business venture than
to be out of work again-because she was sure that he would not be able to
find satisfactory employment in view of the fact that he had had so many
poor jobs before. A remarkably good-looking, well-educated, and bright
young man of twenty-two confessed that he couldn't imagine himself getting a satisfactory girlfriend again if his present one left him, because "I
PERVERSELY ENOUGH, ONE

154
REWRITING YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY

have been conditioned from childhood to feel that I'm not good enough to
go out and get anyone I want, so how can I ever expect to do this?"
So it goes, through most of my working days, with one patient after another directly or indirectly indicating that the unkind, heavily sunk-in
ravages of his or her past life cannot possibly be overcome in the present or
future-unless I somehow magically help him or her to undo this pernicious
influence. To which I normally respond:
"Rubbish! Whatever your early conditioning or the pernicious influences
of your childhood were, their effects never linger on, today, just because
of these original conditions-but because you still carry them on, because
you still believe the nonsense with which you were originally indoctrinated.
Now when are you going to challenge and tackle your own often-repeated
beliefs and thereby uncondition yourself?" And the battle of therapeutic
de-indoctrination continues merrily apace, until (usually) I win or (some-

155

times, alas) the patient flees from me and the necessary work he will have
to undertake to rid himself of his pernicious past influences.
Like these patients, most people in our society appear to believe that because something once significantly affected their lives, or was at one time
appropriate or necessary to their existences, this thing must remain important forever. Thus, they believe that because they once had to obey their
parents they still, as adults, should do so. Or because they were once victims of their environment, they still have to be. Or because they once were
superstitious, they must continue to believe in their early-acquired nonsense.
A strong belief in the continuing importance or enormous significance of
the past is illogical for several reasons:
1. If you still let yourself be unduly influenced by your past experiences,
you commit the logical error of over-generalization. Because a thing is true
under some circumstances hardly proves that it is equally true under all
conditions. Because your father may have been unkind when you were a
child and you had to fight against his exploiting you does not mean that all
men are equally unkind and that you have to keep being on guard against
them. Because you were once too weak to stand up against the domination
of your mother hardly means that you must always remain that weak.
2. By allowing yourself to be too strongly influenced by past events, you
cease to look for alternative solutions to a problem. There is rarely only one
possible solution to a difficulty, and if you remain flexible in your thinking
you will keep casting around till you find a better one than is immediately
apparent. But if you believe that you must be unduly influenced by your
past experiences, you will tend to think mainly in terms of prior, and
usually quite inadequate, "solutions."
3. Many aspects of behavior that are appropriate at one time are decid-

156 A Guide To Rational Living


edly inappropriate at another. Children, in particular, often devise various
methods of solving their problems with their parents-such as by wailing,
balking, or having a temper tantrum when they want their own way. These
devices may be effective for youngsters; but when carried into adulthood
may be thoroughly ineffective since other adults will not respond to the
same devices unless employed by children. If you stick, therefore, to problem-solving devices that were effective in the past, you will often find them
highly illogical in the present.
4. If you remain notably influenced by your past you will maintain what
the psychoanalysts call "transference" effects-meaning that you will inappropriately transfer your feelings about people in your past life to those
who are around you today. Thus, you may self-defeatingly rebel against
your boss's orders today because they remind you of your parents' highhanded orders of twenty years ago. Such transference relationships are
often most unrealistic and unrewarding.
5. If you unchallengingly continue to perform in a certain way because
you have done so in the past, you will fail to gain many new experiences that
might well prove to be exceptionally enjoyable. Thus, if you continue to
have homosexual relations mainly because you enjoyed having them in your
early teens, you may never try heterosexual relations and may never discover that they can be considerably more satisfying than homosexual acts.
Or if you refuse to try for a job as an accountant because you were once
fired from a similar job, you may never become competent enough to retain
and enjoy another accounting position.
6. Unquestioningly accepting the influences of the past amounts to your
being thoroughly unrealistic in many instances since the present is not
the past but usually significantly differs from it. Riding in a Model T Ford
on today's superhighways can be dangerous because the road and traffic
conditions for which the Model T were designed no longer exist. Treating
your wife the same way that you treat your mother may, because she definitely is not your mother, easily bring trouble.
In sum: although the past, as the psychoanalysts and the behaviorists
have clearly seen, indubitably exists and definitely influences people to repeat old patterns of behavior, it is not necessary that it wield the enormous
influence that it often does. You can change human nature, no matter how
long a past condition of behaving has existed-otherwise we, like our
ancestors, would still be living in caves.
Your basic personality, moreover, is not so inalterably set, in the light of
your past experiences, that it need require a "deep" analysis of many years
to restructure. If, with the help of any effective psychotherapeutic procedure, with participation in an intensive program of psychological reading,
lectures, and group discussion, and with (above all!) continual self-quesREWRITING YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY

tioning and challenging of your own basic assumptions and philosophies of


living, you will keep working hard at changing your "basic nature," remarkable results can very often be achieved within a few months to a few
years' time.
True, most people are more or less resistant to making drastic changes in
themselves. This is largely, as we have been trying to show throughout this
book, because they keep reinforcing their old beliefs-telling themselves,
over and over, that Negroes are no good, or that failing at a job is terrible,
or that they should not be forced to bake their cake before they can eat it.
But this fact, rather than proving that "human nature" cannot be changed,
really signifies just the opposite. Precisely because we keep re-living our
past mistakes as a result of our self-sentences, we can normally change these
mistakes by changing our own sentences. Just as our present behavior
largely stems from our past experiences, our future activities will follow our
present performances. And we, by determined thinking and practice, can

157

enormously regulate and control our activities of today.


Harold Stover came to therapy with a quick and vicious temper which,
he said right at the start, he just had to get rid of if he wanted to marry the
girl of his dreams. You've got to help me, Doctor Harper," he pleaded.
"Because Grace says that if I fly off the handle once more in her presence
that's it, and I'm all washed up with her. She said that you helped her immensely, a couple of years ago, when she kept getting angry at her boss all
the time. And unless I let you help me, too, she's had it."
"Well, I can only do my best," I said. "Or, rather, help you do your best.
But, first of all, tell me a little about how your big, bad temper originated:'
Harold then told a fairly typical tale of how, since early childhood, he had
raised the roof when even the slightest thing went wrong. And with some
encouragement, too, since he remembered his mother proudly telling some
guests that from his early nursing days he would howl with rage if she
tried to get him to do anything he didn't want. "Harold had his own mind
at birth," she was fond of saying. And it appeared that somehow this only
child of hers, who insisted on having his own way at all times, appealed
to the mother.
Under the circumstances, it was hardly surprising that his mothers
evaluation of his temper tantrums as being natural, inevitable, and vaguely
cute and desirable came to be adopted by Harold himself. He looked upon
his temper as a normal and effective means of getting what he wanted from
his mother and various other people, especially women, who were sufficiently intimidable. When Grace refused to be intimidated, and frankly
told him that he could peddle his fish elsewhere unless he stopped acting
like a big, churlish child, he realized that he had reached the end of the

158 A Guide To Rational Living


temper tantrum line and that he would do better casting about for more
suitable means of continuing life's journey.
It was not hard to show Harold what the origins of his tantrums were;
and he soon quite agreed with me that there was no use in blaming himself
for having developed the way he did, since his mother had so obviously
trained him to be that way, and there was no point, anyway, in self-recrimination.
"But where do I go from here?" Harold asked. "How do I get over this
stuff, now that I know how it arose? Isn't it true that anything that goes back
practically to birth, and is so deeply a part of my behavior patterns over so
long a period of time, is going to be practically impossible to get rid of?"
"No, I replied, "it isn't so at all. It's perfectly true that, considering how
long you have been having your childish temper tantrums-or how long,
really, you have thought it perfectly good and proper to have them-you're
going to have a decidedly difficult time in fighting them out of your life. So
itll be difficult. But not half so difficult as it will be if you don't fight to get
rid of these self -defeating reactions."
"But how? How do I fight them out of my system?"
"The same way basically, as you put them into your system."
"But didn't we just get finished saying, a while ago, that my mother put
them into my system, by her rewarding me for having the tantrums, and
thereby conditioning me to keep having them?"
"No, not exactly-although it may, at first blush, seem like that. Actually
what happened was that your mother rewarded you, all right, for having
your fits of temper; but also, and more importantly, that you accepted and
kept looking for further rewards. That is to say, you didn't only say to yourself: 'Ah, there goes Mother again, indicating that I can jolly well have my
temper tantrums; so I might as well continue having them.' What you also
said was: 'Ah, Mother allows herself to be intimidated by my tantrums.
And Father goes along for the ride as well. And Florence, the maid, lets me
get away with the same kind of thing. Now let me see: whenever I want
anything that they at first won't give me, I'll look for people like Mother
and Father and Florence and yell my bloody head off until they give it to
me. I know that this will make me something of a bother to these people,
but why should I care about that when I keep getting what I want? For
it's really terrible, it's horrible not to get what I want. And I would much
rather get it, even if I have to keep bothering people, than not get it. And
if some people won't give me what I want when I scream and yell, then to
hell with them. Ill just find other people to be with who will give me what
I want.' Wasn't it something along these lines that you kept saying to yourself?"
"Come to think of it, I guess you're remarkably close. For I do remember,
REWRITING YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY

now that you've mentioned it, that I once had quite a lot of friends, when
I was a small child, and was one of the most popular boys in my neighborhood. But when I found out that some of them wouldn't stand for my
temper tantrums, and wouldn't let me have my way when I went into a fit,
I somehow cut them out of my acquaintanceship and wound up, after
a while, having a sort of bunch of toadies who would keep giving in to me.
And I must admit, now that I think of it again, that these toadies didn't
include some of the brightest and most able kids on the block. But I stayed
with them anyway, in order to keep getting my way."
"You were willing to sacrifice, then, some of your brightest and most able
friends in order to keep getting your immediate wants fulfilled. And isn't
that the pattern that you've followed since that time, giving up long-range
goals or more able friends in order to surround yourself with toadies who
would quickly gratify you, just as your parents and maid originally grati-

159

fied you at a moment's squawk?"


"Yes, I guess it is. But I still don't see how I'm going to get out of this
pattern of behavior."
"As I said before-the same way you got into it. For if your dedication
to tantrums stems largely, as I am contending, not just from your having
been trained to have them, by some outside force, but from your having
trained yourself to have them, to take the easier and shorter-range hedonistic way out of your problem of getting your wants immediately gratified,
then you can equally well train yourself not to have these temper fits, and
instead to favor long-range hedonistic aims."
"Just as I said to myself, "Well, go ahead, Harold, have your fits in order
to blackmail others to do your bidding: I can now say to myself, 'Stop the
nonsense, Harold, and get what you really want out of life-longer-range
and more deeply satisfying goals like winning Grace, for example-by behaving like an adult and not having any more fits.' Is that how I can do it?"
"Yes. And just as you, partly as a rationalization for keeping your present
mode of going for immediate gratification instead of longer-range goals,
are now telling yourself: 'How can I ever expect to change, to lose my
tantrum habit, when it goes back to birth and is an inextricable part of my
personality?' so you can tell yourself, instead: 'No matter how long I've
had this childish habit, nor how many people I've cajoled into going along
with it, I am now defeating my own best ends with it, so I' d better work my
backside off, against my habit and for myself, to behave differently."
"What you seem to be saying is that I must now accept the fact that it is
not so terrible to lose out on some immediate pleasure, but that I am a big
boy and can stand such a loss; and that, for my greater good I'll just have
to change my ways."
"Yes, I am asking you to make more of a philosophic than a motor change

160 A Guide To Rational Living


in your habits. And I am sure that if you accept an adult philosophy of
life, for the first time, you will not have much difficulty in acting in an
adult way from here on in:'
"But suppose I try what you say, and all goes well for awhile, and then I
fail, and have another real fit of temper again?"
"Suppose you do. As long as you do not use your slip to 'prove' to yourself
that you really were born to have temper tantrums, and you definitely
can't change, it will remain just that: a minor slip. And you will soon go
back to changing for the better again, until your relapses become fewer and
fewer, and eventually perhaps disappear completely."
"As long as I stick to the present and keep working for a different future,
I can practically forget about the long negative conditioning of the past?"
"Right. As long as, every time you feel urged to have a fit of temper, or
actually slip for a short while into having one, you say to yourself: "Well,
there I go again. I must have told myself some nonsense all over again to
make myself slip. Now let's see what it was. And how can I use this relapse
to help myself avoid another temper outburst next time?' If you calmly,
interestedly look at your slips, and your internalized sentences that are
causing them, in this manner then it will only be a matter of time when
your negative conditioning of the past turns into the positive conditioning
of the present and your problem is solved:'
So it proved. Six weeks later Harold Stover reported: "Would you believe
it? Grace and I actually got engaged. You'll be getting a formal announcement just as soon as they are printed up. And she was the one to do the pushing. 'Look, darling,' I said, when she suggested it the other night, 'I know
that I haven't had any temper outbursts for the last six weeks now, and I'm
certainly glad for your sake and mine that I haven't. But how do you know
that I'm really cured, and that I won't have one again tomorrow?' 'That's
not the point, Harold,' she replied. 'I don't know that you won't have one
tomorrow again-though I doubt that you will. But it wasn't really your
outbursts that I was against but the little-boy, you've-got-to-give-me-exactly-what-I-want attitude that went with them and caused them. And
that, your attitude, has changed remarkably since you've been talking to
Dr. Harper. And I feel sure that that won't change back to the old attitude
very quickly. If it does,' and she smiled in her inimitable manner at this
point, you know how she smiles, Doctor, 'well, I can always divorce you:"
Grace and Harold did marry; his new grown-up attitudes did not change
back to the old little-boy ones; and they are still managing to stay out of
the divorce court. There is every reason to believe that they always will.
Almost any other intelligent and hard-working person, too, can overcome
the influence of his past, or stop acting in accordance with what the psyREWRITING YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY

choanalysts call his classic transference, if some of these techniques are


tried:
1. Accept the fact that your past is important and that you are bound
to be significantly influenced by it in many ways. But accept, equally, the
fact that your present is your past of tomorrow. You cannot today make a
single right-about-turn and be an entirely different person from the one
you were yesterday. But you can start changing yourself significantly today
so that eventually you will be a quite different individual. By doing new
kinds of thinking and undergoing new experiences in the present, and by
accepting your past as a handicap rather than a total block, your tomorrow's
(or the day after tomorrow's) behavior may well be radically different from
today's,
2. Objectively acknowledging your past errors, instead of moralistically
blaming yourself for them, you can learn to use your disadvantageous past
for your own present and future benefit. Instead of automatically repeating

161

your past mistakes because you once made them, you can calmly observe
and question these misdeeds. All traditions and customs that you generally
follow, in fact, can be periodically reviewed and rethought: so that you can
separate the wheat from the chaff and (if desirable) change your life accordingly.
3. When you find that you are strongly held by some past influence that
is defeating your current goals you must persistently and forcefully fight
it on both verbal and action levels. Thus, if you find that you keep acting
like a little child toward your mother and consequently failing to do what
you really want to do in life, you must keep convincing yourself: "I do not
have to continue to act this way. I am no longer a child. I can speak up to
my mother and tell her what I really think is right and what I actually want
to do. She has no power over me anymore and cannot hurt me or prevent
me from doing what I want unless I let her. I do not want to hurt her needlessly; but neither do I want to hurt myself. I know that I once thought
disaster would ensue if I stood up to her; but this is nonsense-it won't.
There is nothing to be afraid of but my own silly beliefs about disaster.
Now let's have no more of this bosh. Enough is enough!" On the counterpropaganda front, you must seek out and forthrightly tackle any irrational
influences from the past. You must show yourself how ridiculous they are;
how they are only harming rather than helping you; how you would be
much better off if you removed them.
4. As ever, to effect a solid change in yourself, you must accompany your
counter-propaganda with action. You must deliberately work against the
influences of the past: force yourself, for example, to act toward your
mother in a more adult fashion, to risk her disapproval, to say and do things
that you previously would have been petrified to do lest you shock her. If

162 A Guide To Rational Living


you never in all your life talked to a stranger in a bus, went to a party alone,
kissed a girl on your first date, or did similar things that you very much
would like to do, force yourself, give yourself absolutely no peace, until
you try and try again these terribly "fearful" but actually harmless acts.
No nonsense Don't just think: act! Years or decades of past fright and
inertia may almost always be overcome by days or weeks of present forced
practice.
5. Remember, above all: the past is the past. It has no magical, automatic effect on the present or future. At most, your past habits make it
harder for you to change than to remain stationary. Harder, but not impossible. Work and time; practice and more practice; thinking and doing;
these are the unmagical keys that will unlock almost any chest of past
defeats and turn them into possible present and future victories.

Accepting Reality

18
LET'S FACE IT: reality

often stinks. People are not the way we would like


them to be; this is not the best of all possible worlds; even half-perfect
solutions to many of life's serious problems and difficulties just do not exist.
But this is still no reason for an individual's being desperately unhappy.
It is not imperfect or unkind reality which makes millions of humans miserable, but their unthinking addiction to Irrational Idea No.9: The idea that

people and things should be different from the way they are and that it is
catastrophic if perfect solutions to the grim realities of life are not immediately found. This idea is idiotic for several reasons:
1. There is no reason whatever why people should be any different from
the way they are, even when they are palpably acting very badly or immorally. It would certainly be nice if they were different and if they did
not act badly. But the fact is that they are the way they are and do act
badly. And it is grandiose if you tell yourself, "Because I don't like people
the way they are, they shouldn't be that way." Similarly, although it would
be lovely if things and events often were not the way they are, they frequently are that way. And again, there is no reason why they shouldn't be,
just because you would like them to be different.
2. When people and events are the way you would like them not to be,
there is actually relatively little pernicious effect they can have on you unless you think they can. If your wife acts nastily or your friends are unfriendly, their behavior may well be annoying or not ideal; but it is rarely
truly as bothersome as you, by your intolerance, may make it. Similarly,

5.
164 A Guide To Rational Living

163

when things or events go wrong, that is unfortunate, and may affect you adversely. But the adversity thereby caused you is rarely half so bad as you
think it is or as you make it by telling yourself "Things shouldn't be this way.
I can't stand it!"
3. Assuming that people are actually harming you and events are really
going poorly, your becoming upset about what is happening will still do
you no good. On the contrary, the more upset you become, the less you will
be able to change people or things for the better. Thus, if you become incensed because your mate is acting irresponsibly, the chances are that he or
she, feeling angry at your criticism, will act even more irresponsibly.
4. As Epictetus pointed out two thousand years ago, although we do have
the power to change and control ourselves to a considerable degree (if we
work hard and long enough at modifying our own beliefs
and actions), we
do not have a similar power to control the behavior of others. No matter

how wisely we may counsel others, they are still independent entities and
may-and indeed, have the right as individuals-to choose to ignore us
completely. If, therefore, we become unduly aroused over the way others
act, instead of paying more attention to how we respond to their actions, we
are upsetting ourselves over an outside event that is largely beyond our
control. This is akin to tearing our hair because a jockey, a prizefighter, or
an actor is not performing the way we think he should perform. Very silly
business indeed!
5. Upsetting yourself about other people and events will usually sidetrack you from what should logically be your main concern: the way you
behave, the things you do. If you control your own destiny, by the proper
cultivation of your own garden, the most harrowing things that happen
will not perturb you too much and you will often be able to help change
other people and things for the better. But if you unduly upset yourself
over outside happenings, you will inevitably consume so much time and
energy that you will have little left for the proper cultivation of your own
garden.
6. The notion that there is an absolutely right or perfect solution to any
of life's problems is highly improbable, since few things are all black or all
white and there are normally many alternative solutions, each with various
advantages and disadvantages, to almost any problem. If you compulsively
keep seeking for the absolutely best or perfect solution, you will tend to be
so rigid and anxious that you will be fairly certain to miss some highly
satisfactory compromises. Thus, the individual who has to see the best TV
program that is on the air at a given time will probably keep anxiously
turning from one channel to another and will end up by having seen
none of the programs.
7. The disasters that you imagine will occur if you do not quickly get a

ACCEPTING REALITY

165

perfect and absolutely "right" solution to one of life's realities rarely


actually occur-except by arbitrary definition. If you think it is catastrophic
to make a wrong decision-to marry the wrong person, for example, and
wind up with a divorce-you will most likely bring disaster on your head
when you discover your mistake. If you think that it is regrettable and
unfortunate, but not catastrophic, to make exactly the same wrong decision,
you will most likely bear your mistake very well-and perhaps even learn
a great deal by it.
8. Perfectionism is, almost by definition, a self-defeating philosophy. No
matter how close you may come to running the perfect race, living with
someone who displays flawless behavior, or arranging things in your life
so that you are absolutely certain of their outcome, you will never really
achieve your perfectionist goals. For humans are not angels; events are
never certain; decisions cannot be absolutely correct at all times. Even if
you temporarily achieve perfection in some goal, your chances of remaining
at this ultimate peak are nil. Nothing is perfectly static; life is change.
Whether you like it or not, you must accept reality the way it is: as being
highly imperfect and filled with most fallible humans. The only alternative
is continual anxiety and desperate disappointment.
Take the case of Laura Gerand. Laura came from a close-knit family.
She had been her father's favorite child but had felt that her mother preferred her two sisters and two brothers to herself. Then her father died
when Laura was twenty, and left a large amount of insurance to his wife.
One of Laura's main problems, and one which she brought up continually
during the early sessions of psychotherapy, was her great concern about
her mother's ability to manage the money she had been left. According to
Laura, her mother kept extravagantly throwing this money away on all the
other family members except herself.
Said the therapist, after hearing a number of Laura's complaints and
seeing that she probably intended to keep making them ad infinitum:
"Why are you so concerned about what your mother is doing with this
money, anyway? After all, it is her money; it was left to her by your father;
and she has a perfect right to do with it what she likes-to throw it down the
sewer, if that pleases her."
"Yes, I realize that, of course," Laura replied. "But you see my mother
always had my father to look after money matters before. Now she doesn't
and she doesn't know how to say 'No' to my greedy brothers, sisters, and
in-laws."
"Do you want some of the money yourself, for some special purpose? Is
that what's bothering you?"
"No, I'm doing quite all right. I have a good job and opportunities for advancement. And the boy I'm engaged to is doing very well too and comes

166 A Guide To Rational Living


from a well-to-do family. So I don't want a cent of her money for myself.
Not a cent."
Then what's the problem? Why don't you just forget about what your
mother is doing with her money and go about your own business? Apparently she hasn't asked any advice from you about it; and if she wants
to give all the money to your brothers and sisters and their families, that's
her privilege."
"But how can she behave that way-throwing away the money like that,
when she may need it later? And giving all of them everything they want.
Why, in no time at all the money will be entirely gone."
"Perhaps so; but that's still her problem. Besides, you have already called
to her attention the fact that you think she is spending too much too fast,
haven't you?"
"Oh, yes. I spoke to her as soon as I saw, a few weeks after my father's
death, what she was doing."
"And she said?"
To mind my own goddamn business!"
"Well?"
"But how can she do this? It's terribly wrong of her to act this way. Can't
something be done to stop her?"
"Let's assume, for the moment, that it is wrong or stupid for your mother
to be spending the money the way she is-"
"Oh it is; it is!"
'Well, I'm not sure that everyone-especially your brothers and sisterswould agree that it is. But let's assume that it is wrong-that almost any sane
and objective person would agree that it is. So what? So it's wrong. But
hasn't your mother the democratic right to be wrong? Are you going to
take away that right from her?"
"But-!But is it right to be wrong?"
"No, obviously it isn't. If she's wrong, she's wrong; and she can't, at one
and the same time, be right. O.K.: so she's wrong. But you still haven't
answered my question: Doesn't every human being, including your mother,
have the right to be wrong? Or do you want to force them, if you can, to be
perfectly dead right?"
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"Well, let's put it this way: It is certainly desirable, you and I will grant,
that human beings be right instead of wrong, that they make fewer rather
than more mistakes. And if your mother is wrong about her spending this
money-as we are assuming for the sake of discussion that she is-then
it would be highly desirable if she stopped being wrong and stopped spending the money the way she is spending it. But let's suppose that she's wrong,
dead wrong, about the spending, and that she's just not going to stop being
ACCEPTING REALITY

167

wrong-she's going to continue to spend the money badly, to squander it


on your brothers and sisters and their families."
"But should she?"
"That's just the point-why shouldn't she? Why shouldn't she be wrong
if she is, and continue to be wrong if she wants to continue to be? Why
shouldn't she be a fallible human being, like all of us, and make one mistake after another? Would you want her, really expect her, to be an
angel?"
"No, 1 wouldn't."
"You say you wouldn't; but do you really mean what you say? For here
she is, your mother, dead wrong according to our hypothesis; and you're
insisting that she not be wrong, that she be right. But she is wrong and is
determined to continue being so. Now it seems to me that she'd have to be
something of an angel, under these circumstances, not to be wrong-or to
stop being wrong when she wants to go on continuing to be. And what you

really mean, of course, is that you want her to do things your way with the
money rather than her way. And even more than that, you want her to
want to do things your way rather than hers. And you're giving her no democratic right whatever to want to do things her way-however wrong, according to you, me, and even the world at large, that way may be."
"But 1 still say: Should a person be wrong, when she can just as well be
right?"
"But that's a rhetorical question. Because, obviously, if people could
just as well be right, they probably would be. And when they are wrong, it
means either that they want to be right, but somehow can't be as yet; or
that they don't even want to be right-and therefore certainly can't be."
"I-I really don't know what to say."
'Well, think about it a little more, and I'm sure that you'll see that some
of the things I'm pointing out are true, and that you just haven't been considering them. Suppose, for example, that you were in your mother's place
instead of your mother being there and that you were doing something
wrong-say, spending a lot of money rather recklessly and foolishly."
"I'd be wrong if I did-just as wrong as she is."
"All right, let's suppose you'd be wrong. But the point is: Wouldn't you
have a right to be wrong-to make your own mistakes? Suppose your
mother came to you, in those circumstances, and advised you to stop spending the money the way you were doing; and suppose you thought over her
advice, but still decided to go on spending your money foolishly. Again:
wouldn't you have the right to do things your way instead of hers, and make
your own mistakes?"
"I see what you mean now. Even though 1 was wrong, I'd have a perfect

168 A Guide To Rational Living


right, as a human being, to do what I wanted, and perhaps by doing it to
prove to myself that I was wrong."
"Exactly. For don't forget that people like your mother-or like you
would be in this illustration, we are supposing-practically never think
they are wrong when they are making their mistakes. Later, perhaps, they
realize how wrong they were. But not at the time they are making the
mistakes. Now how else can they learn, in these circumstances, except by
making their mistakes, and finally proving themselves to have been wrong?"
"I guess you're right there. There is no other way, actually, that they can
learn how wrong they are, is there?"
"No, not for all practical purposes. They could see how wrong they are
merely from your or someone else's pointing it out to them. But if they
don't, then what else can they do but make their mistakes and then, in
retrospect, see that they were wrong?"
"But isn't it a shame that people have to act that way first and then see
that they are wrong?"
"It probably is a shame-but that's the way human beings are. Most of
the time they first make their mistakes and then they recognize them. If
they were angels, they doubtless would behave differently. But they aren't
angels-they are fallible humans. Besides, look at the advantages of their
being so fallible and of our permitting them to be so."
"What advantages?"
"Well, for one thing their fallibility leads them to have experiences, and
often quite valuable experiences, that otherwise, if they were more cautious
and less fallible, they might never have. Memoirs would be quite dull reading if people were as infallible as you would like them to be!"
"Oh, I'm sure we could make that sacrifice to create a better world!"
"Maybe so. But there's an even more important point. If people made
fewer mistakes the way you want to force them to do--by not only bringing their errors to their attention but punishing them severely for such errors
-would the fascist-type world that we then would have be worth living
in? If you, for example, really could and did force your mother to stop her
rash spending, and let's even suppose that you were technically correct in
doing so (though actually, of course, you could be wrong and she could be
right), how do you think she and millions of other people like her would
enjoy being supervised by people like you? How would you, for example,
enjoy being told, by people like your mother, what kind of a job you could
work at, whom you could marry, and just how much money you could
spend each week?"
"I don't suppose I'd enjoy it at all."
"I don't suppose you would. And yet isn't that what you're really proposing: that a small group of 'correct' and largely infallible people have the
ACCEPTING REALITY

169

power to tell a much larger group of 'incorrect' and fallible people exactly
how to run their lives? And if this kind of society existed, wouldn't it be
most dictatorial and fascistic-and would you want to live in it?"
"You seem to be saying that allowing people to be seriously mistaken
about their behavior, and even to defeat their own ends by their mistakes,
is the price we have to pay for democracy."
'Well, isn't it?"
"Hmm, You may be right."
"As I said before: think it over. Besides, there's another aspect of your
problem with your mother that we have to face and that perhaps you're
not facing."
"What is that?"
"Simply that although you set up the situation as if she is hurting herself,
and you are on the outside merely watching her self-defeating game, we
have to suspect that really, underneath, you may feel that she is hurting

you and that she is not playing your perfection-seeking game."


"You think that I really want her to love me as much as or more than my
brothers and sisters and that I am using her spending as an excuse to force
her to do so?"
"That's certainly a possibility. Surely, from your standpoint, a less than
perfect family circle has existed, especially since your father's death, as
he was the one who mainly cared for you. Now under the guise of helping
your mother spend her money better, you may be trying to get your own
way, break up some of her closeness with the other family members, and
achieve the 'ideal' situation that you think should exist. Then, when you
cannot attain this 'ideal' and cannot achieve the certainty of your mother's
love that you probably always wanted and never got, you grandiosely refuse to accept reality and start wailing about her wrongdoings.'
"But if what you say is true, isn't it natural for me to want to get closer
to my mother and to get back some of the love that she's kept from me all
these years?"
"Yes, it's natural for you to want to do so; but your means of achieving
your desires are quite distorted and ineffective. If you truly accepted the
reality of her favoring your brothers and sisters, and worked hard to change
this reality-say, by being exceptionally nice to her yourself-that would
be a sane enough program for you to follow. But instead you deny the
reality that you consider so unfair and imperfect-pretend that you are not
troubled by your mother's favoritism of the other family members-and
then keep flaying your mother on a supposedly different issue entirely. And
your sharp criticism of her, of course, will only help preserve the poor reality that you actually seem to want to change."
"By keeping after her about the spending of the money, the way I do, I

170 A Guide To Rational Living


just keep antagonizing her further and give her good reason for favoring
the others-is that what you mean?"
"That's exactly it. By refusing to face and temporarily put up with the
grim reality of your family life, and by unconsciously telling yourself much
of the time that 'It's unfair! It shouldn't be this way!' you deviously induce
yourself to act in the very manner that will almost certainly help perpetuate
and aggravate this unpleasant reality. While, on the other hand, if you ungrandiosely accepted, for the present, the ungracious position you're in,
you might well be able, as an intelligent and hard-working person, to do
something to correct the situation."
"My, you've certainly given me a lot of food for thought in this session!
I'm going to have to think over very carefully what we've talked about and
see whether I really have been doing what you say and whether I have been
covering up my own perfectionism and refusal to accept reality by keeping after mother about her spending."
"By all means think about this carefully and see whether you do not find
that some of the hypotheses I have suggested accurately fit your situation."
Laura did think things over; came to the conclusion that even though she
still felt that her mother was mistaken, that was not the main issue involved in her own being upset; and for the first time began to accept, quite
democratically, her mother's and others' right to make their own mistakes
and errors. Within the next several months, her relations with her mother
were enormously improved and some of the mother's reckless spending,
possibly because of these improved relations, did stop. More importantly,
Laura went back to cultivating her own garden more effectively and began
to get along better with her fianc, whose imperfections she had previously
been covertly simmering about, but whom she could now accept in a much
more uncritical manner.
Some general rules for combating your own perfectionism and grandiosity and learning to accept reality even when it shows some of its most
unpleasant aspects are these:
1. When people act badly in relation to you or to themselves-as they
often do in this world-ask yourself whether their behavior is really worth
getting excited about. Do you actually care what these people do? Do their
actions truly affect your life? Will these people change, no matter how much
time and effect you spend helping them? Do you want to spend sufficient
time and energy to help them? Do you actually have it available to spend?
Unless you can answer questions like these with a resounding 'Yes!'
wouldn't it perhaps be better if you stayed somewhat aloof from other peoples' errors and shortcomings and merely offered them, especially when
asked, moderate advice and help?
2. Assuming that you do consider it highly worthwhile to become inACCEPTING REALITY

timately involved with helping others change their ineffective or poor behavior, try to do so in a relatively calm and unfrantic way. If you really want
people to change for their own (or even your own) good, you will almost
always be most helpful by being permissive, uncritical, and accepting. Do
your best to see things from their frames of reference, rather than your own.
Firmly reject, if you will, their self-defeating behavior but do not reject

them.
3. Even when people are specifically nasty to you, or actually harm you,
it is still most important that you keep calm yourself and not condemn them
severely or viciously retaliate. Whether you like it or not, they are the way
they are; and it is childish for you to think that they shouldn't be. The more
objective you are about their nastiness, the better an example you will be
able to set them; the more constructive a plan you will be able to devise to
induce them to stop their nastiness; and the less you will annoy yourself
because of their behavior. If, when faced with difficult people (or things or

171

events), you keep telling yourself how terrible and awful they are, you will
only make your situation more difficult. If you tell yourself, instead, that:
"this situation stinks-tough! so it stinks" you will at least prevent yourself
from being annoyed at being annoyed and you will be much more likely to
be effective in making the situation less stinking.
4. Ceaselessly fight your own perfectionism. If, as an artist or a producer,
you would like to work on a near-perfect work or product, fine. But you will
never be perfect; nor will anyone else with whom you are in contact. Humans are thoroughly fallible; life is essentially uncertain. The quest for certainty and perfection is largely motivated (a) by the childish fear of living
in a highly uncertain and imperfect world; and (b) by the conscious or unconscious drive to excel all others, to be King or Queen of the May, and
thus prove' one's absolute superiority over everyone else. Living without
anxiety and hostility can never be attained unless you fully accept, as
Reichenbach shows, that you live in a world of probability and chance, and
unless you accept yourself because you are and not because you are "better" than anyone else.
5. Since there are no perfect solutions to life problems and difficulties,
you simply must accept many compromises and reasonable solutions. The
more you keep your eyes open for many alternative answers to a given problem, the more likely you are to find the best feasible answer to it. Impulsive
and impatient choices are more likely to be ineffective ones. Think about,
consider, and compare the different alternatives open to you. Try objectively to see various sides of an issue, with a minimum of prejudices and preconceptions. In the final analysis, however, you will have to make some kind
of a plunge; and it is usually best to make this plunge experimentally, with
the full acceptance of the fact that it may work out well-and it may not.

172 A Guide To Rational Living


If you fail, that is unfortunate; but it is rarely catastrophic. And failure
never-no, never!-has anything to do with your intrinsic value as a person. Humans only learn by doing and by failing-that is probably the main
aspect of (highly uncertain and imperfect) reality that you must accept.
6. Assuming that you are able to choose wisely and non-perfectionistically among several present alternatives, you must still leave the door open
to taking other choices in the future. For the best alternative that you may
take today in solving a problem may not be the best one you might take tomorrow, any more than the kind of car you would buy today need be the
same you would purchase ten years from now. Your own desires, outside
conditions, and other people with whom you may be involved all may significantly change; and these changes should be taken into account in your
choice among alternatives. Your attitude should therefore be one of what
Kelly calls an outlook conducive to "a program of continuous construct
revision." Or, as Korzybski and Magee would put it, life plan! may not be
the same as life plans, and you must be realistically able to differentiate between your own preferences and goals, and the most feasible methods of
achieving them, at one point in time and another.

Overcoming Inertia
and Becoming
19 Creatively Absorbed

THERE IS NO rest for the weary; and, as we noted before, there is no easy
way out of life's difficulties and responsibilities. Yet millions of civilized
people seem to believe heartily in Irrational Idea No. 10: The idea that

maximum human happiness can be achieved by inertia and inaction or by


passively and uncommittedly "enjoying oneself." This notion is illogical
for several reasons:
1. Human beings appear to be a species of animal who are not particularly happy or alive when they are inert, except for short periods of time
between their exertions. Although they become tired and tense when they
are ceaselessly active, they just as easily become bored and listless when
they are constantly at rest. Passive "enjoyments," such as reading, playgoing, or watching sporting events are quite entertaining and relaxing
when engaged in fairly regularly; but a steady and exclusive diet of this
kind of "activity" soon tends to pall and to lead to feelings of ennui and
self-alienation.
2. The more intelligent and perceptive a human being is, the more he
seems to require vitally absorbing activity to keep himself maximally alive
and happy. Perhaps less intelligent people can sit in the sun day after day
and need no other occupation for their full enjoyment. But highly intelligent
adults can rarely be enthused and gratified for any length of time unless
they have some rather complex, absorbing, and challenging occupations or
avocations.
3. To some degree, human well-being would seem to be absorption in

173

174 A Guide To Rational Living


outside people and events, or what Nina Bull calls goal-orientation. Highly
negative emotions (such as depression, grief, and anxiety) on the one hand,
as well as ecstatically positive emotions (such as elation, triumph, and
manic joy) on the other hand, may both, when experienced for long periods
of time, be pathological; while quiet, undramatic, persistent absorption in
achieving some goal, and especially some long-range creative goal (such
as writing a novel or working on a large scientific project) may well be the
most satisfying kind of activity.
It is notable, however, that even highly negative feelings (such as continual anxiety) or positive emotions (such as great elation) are unusually
absorbing and unpassive occupations for those who keep experiencing
them. Above all, they are active participations in life; and that is perhaps
why so many seemingly unhappy people resist giving up their severe feelings of depression or mania. Intense absorption seems to be the common
denominator of practically all forms of aliveness-including even the emotionally disturbed forms.
4. What we usually call loving or being in love, as opposed to desiring
to be loved, is one of the main forms of vital absorption. In fact, the three
main forms of being vitally absorbed in anything are (a) loving-or being
absorbed in other people; (b) creating-or being absorbed in things; and
( c) philosophizing-or being absorbed in ideas. Being inert, passive, or
over-inhibited normally keeps you from being absorbed in any of these
three major ways-and hence from truly living. Living essentially means
doing, acting, loving, creating, thinking. It is negated by any prolonged
amount of goofing, loafing, or lazing.
5. Although, as we pointed out previously in our chapter on self-discipline, it is initially harder for many or most people to get themselves into
vitally absorbing activities, and it is at first easier for them to sit on their
backsides and do little or nothing, in the great majority of instances the individual who fights against this initial difficulty and propels himself into
activity comes to enjoy his actions (and sometimes, also, their results) far
more than he would continue to enjoy his prolonged inactivity. The game
normally is worth the candle-if you keep playing it long enough.
6. People who lead a lazy, passive existence and who keep saying that
"nothing really interests me very much" are almost always (consciously or
unconsciously) defending themselves against some irrational fear, especially the great fear of failure. Viewing failure with horror, they avoid certain activities that they would really like to engage in; and after sufficient
avoidance, they conclude, in all sincerity, that they are not interested in
these activities. They thus cut off one potential piece of their life space after
another, and may well end up in the sad position of not being interested in
anything. In some respects, these apathetic, listless, and bored individuals
OVERCOMING INERTIA AND BECOMING CREATIVELY ABSORBED

are even more unhappy than are the actively anxious and hostile people of
the world: who at least, as we indicated a few paragraphs back, are absorbed in their fears and hatreds.
7. To some extent, self-confidence seems to be intrinsically related to activity. The reason, in the last analysis, you know that you can do something
you would like to do is because you have already proven, by your past behavior, that you have done it or something akin to it before. A child who
never tried to walk would hardly acquire confidence in his being able to
walk-or to swim, or ride, or do almost any other kind of muscular activity.
This is not to deny that the dire need to succeed at difficult tasks and projects is one which, in our society, is largely drilled into us by cultural competition propaganda. It is. And much of our "pride" or "self-confidence,"
therefore, is actually false pride and false confidence: born of this dire need
to succeed.
There is some reason to believe, however, that even with a minimum of

175

social upbringing, a human being is a kind of animal that has to accept certain challenges and at least try various tasks if he is to have confidence in
himself. And the philosophy of inertia and inaction, especially when it is
motivated by fear of failure, blocks the development of self-confidence and
self-respect.
8. Action, as we have been stressing throughout this book, is often required to break the pattern of your own self-defeating behavior. If you have
almost any habit pattern that is sabotaging your health, your happiness, or
your relations with others, and you want to change it for a more effective
pattern of living, you will just have to work forcefully against this habit,
with both verbal-propagandistic and activity-deconditioning approaches.
Time and effort are the essence of human growth and development. The
more inert and inactive you are, the more you are certain to block your own
strongest desires, to sabotage your own healthy ends.
9. Inertia has a tendency to become perniciously cumulative. The more
you refrain from doing some activity-especially, again, out of fear-the
more you normally become used to not doing it, and it then becomes harder
and harder to get yourself to do it. The more, for example, you keep from
doing the writing or the painting that you keep telling yourself you really
want to do, the more difficult you find it, eventually, to get down to doing
it; and, as noted above, you frequently lose interest entirely in doing it.
Human beings easily become habituated or acclimated to what they do,
even though what they do is entirely senseless and self-defeating. A little
inertia, when excused and coddled, therefore tends to lead to more inertia
-and so on, almost ad infinitum.
An excellent case in point is the condition of fixed homosexuality, which
literally tens of thousands of American males become addicted to every

176 A Guide To Rational Living


year, largely because it originally seems to be an "easy" way out for them
-considering, as has been pointed out, how difficult we often make it in this
country for the young male to fulfill himself sexually with the young female. Jack Monroe, one such homosexual, came to therapy when he was
twenty-five, after he had had, since the age of fifteen, an exclusively homoerotic background. He had been attracted to girls at a very early age, but
had not had the courage to date any of them, for fear that they would look
askance at his pimply face and his long, gangly body; and he had found easy
solace in older homosexual males, who accepted him the way he was and
even made most of the overtures themselves.
After ten years of highly promiscuous homosexual behavior, including
one arrest and a recent attempt to blackmail him at his place of business
(where they did not suspect his homosexual proclivities and would have
been shocked to learn about them), Jack decided that it was about high
time he attempted to "go straight." And he came to see the therapist with
the knowledge that he, unlike a good many psychoanalytic practitioners,
strongly felt that homosexuality was a learned rather than an inborn
anomaly and that it definitely could be cured.
At first, Jack was quite cooperative. He seemed to accept the fact that he
would have to make some drastic changes in his thinking; and he did not
resist the therapist's homework assignments (a common part of rationalemotive psychotherapy) which involved his forcing himself to make dates
with girls. When, however, it came to carrying out the second part of this
assignment-which was to start making some sexual overtures to the girls
he was dating-Jack started to balk and to bring forth various excuses. He
was going with one particular girl, Tammie, who seemed favorably inclined
toward him and would probably respond if he tried to kiss or pet her; but
he never started.
"It seems to me," he said to the therapist in the course of the seventh session, that it would be futile for me to kiss and pet her until I feel a strong
urge to do so. Otherwise, it will just be artificial and mechanical."
"With that kind of attitude," said the therapist, "you'll probably wait forever. For how can you possibly, with your longstanding homosexual background, strongly want to kiss Tammie (or any other girl)? How, for that
matter, could you strongly want to eat oysters until you had first tried
them, several times perhaps, and finally knew that you enjoyed them?"
"But I could strongly want to try oysters for the first time, to see if I might
like them."
"Exactly! If you had no silly fear of oysters, you probably would want to
try them for the first time, to see if you would cultivate a taste for them. But
that's just the point: you do have a silly fear of girls. And while you have
OVERCOMING INERTIA AND BECOMING CREATIVELY ABSORBED

this fear, it is ridiculous to ask that you should want to kiss them or do anything else in the line of sexual advances."
"All right: but how do I get over my fear?"
"Just as you would get over your fear of oysters, if you had one. First,
by convincing yourself that oysters are not terrible, awful, and death-dealing. And, second, by forcing yourself to try and to keep trying them until
you proved, in action, that nothing horrible occurred when you ate them."
"So I should try telling myself that it is not too terrible to kiss girls, and
then should keep kissing and kissing and kissing them?"
"Right. For no matter how much you try the first part of this de-indoctrination process-the part where you keep telling yourself that it is not terrible to kiss girls-nothing much is likely to happen until you also try the
second part. For every time that you get a chance to kiss Tammie and don't
do so, you are actually re-indoctrinating yourself, all over again, with your
fears: telling yourself, that is, that it is or would be frightening if you kissed

177

her. Or, in other words, you are saying to yourself, by your inactivity, 'All
this fear of kissing Tammie may be nonsense in theory but it sure as hell is
real in action. Boy, it's difficult to do!' And by repeating to yourself how difficult it is to do, you actually of course keep making it just that difficult."
"According to your way of looking at it, then, I have to keep subjecting
myself to actions that counteract my fears of women before I can really expect to expose to myself the absurdity of these fears. Is that right?"
"Right as can be."
"But I just can't go ahead and kiss Tammie, feeling the way I do. And if I
forced myself to do so, against my own fundamental tastes, it would be
bound to be such a disagreeable experience that it might well hinder rather
than help me become heterosexually interested."
"Why should it? If you had a fear of swimming, and after showing yourself many times that there was no real danger and that in a shallow pool you
couldn't possibly drown, you hesitatingly plunged, would it be likely that
your swim would be so unpleasant that you would never go in the water
again? Or would it be more likely that, once you were in the water, you
would quickly see, what you had been theoretically but not too effectively
trying to tell yourself, that the pool is shallow and that you can't possibly
drown?"
"I guess I'd soon see that the swimming wasn't dangerous. But is this a
fair analogy? In swimming, all I would have to do would be to plunge into
the water. But in trying to behave heterosexually I have to go through a
most complicated set of thoughts, feelings, and actions that aren't me."
"True. But in swimming, too, you might be surprised how complicated a
set of thoughts, feelings, and actions you would have to go through before
you could swim well. For plunging into the water is but the first step. After

178 A Guide To Rational Living


that, you have to get used to the feel of the water, learn not to swallow too
much of it, practice moving your arms in certain coordinated ways, see that
you breathe properly while you are swimming, and so on, and so forth.
There are perhaps a hundred different thoughts, feelings, and acts that you
would have to undergo while swimming that you probably have never before undergone while, say, walking, riding, or dancing. And these movements and these feelings become you as you practice them. You grow to
like them after a time; and many of them, in fact, you grow to like only
after you have become thoroughly proficient at them-which may be weeks
or months later. Thus, although you first may dislike using a breast stroke
in swimming, because you have started with a crawl stroke, once you keep
trying and become proficient at the breast stroke you may come to like it far
more than the crawl position. Your liking to be and being a fine breast
stroke swimmer then becomes part of your swimming personality. Whereas
at first it was entirely foreign to you, it later may become most natural."
"It all sounds very easy, the way you put it. But how am I to force myself
to kiss Tammie when I really don't want to do so?"
"Very Simply: by forcing yourself. Just as you would force yourself to
plunge into the swimming. And by, as I said before, fighting against your
present nonsense: your telling yourself that it would be horrible if she rejected your kiss, or indicated that she didn't like it, or let you have some sex
satisfaction and then rejected you. Plunging means plunging-there's no
other way."
"Even against my own feelings?"
"Especially against your own feelings. For your feelings, I must keep
insisting, are nothing but arbitrary fears. You don't even know it would
be unpleasant to kiss Tammie: never having tried! And what you are really
against, and have no so-called feeling for, is not the kissing (for I repeat:
you can't even see how unpleasant that might be, until you've tried it; besides you know perfectly well that it can't be that much different from kissing a male, which you've done frequently and somehow survived); what
you really feel negative or blah about is the idea of your having to take the
bull by the horns, having to work at conquering your fear and your inertia.
Isn't that really what you have feelings against?"
"Well, yes: now that you mention it. I don't like the idea of having to go
to all this goddamn trouble to enjoy myself, if I ever actually will succeed
in enjoying myself, with a woman when, as you well know, I already get a
heck of a lot of enjoyment out of being with men."
"Ah, so that is it! As it so often is, in cases like yours. You would like to
change, to become heterosexual-if there were little or no work involved in
doing so. But since it is a pain in the neck and does require all kinds of effort and practice, and since you already can enjoy yourself sexually with
OVERCOMING INERTIA AND BECOMING CREATIVELY ABSORBED

males without this kind of effort and practice, you don't see why you should
have to change. That's exactly why so few homosexuals do overcome their
fear of heterosexuality-and why so few other kinds of neurotics thoroughly overcome their particular kinds of fears and hostilities: because they
want to do so magically, without work, without practice."
"But they can't, can they?"
"No, they damn well can't. There is no magic. There is no easy way. And
the principles of human inertia are tough ones to conquer; they really are.
But there is, of course, no other way. In your case, either you must force
yourself to kiss Tammie, and to keep on kissing her till you learn to enjoy
it; or else you must go on being exclusively homosexual, with all the enormous disadvantages thereof in this society, for the rest of your life."
"So, no matter how I feel about kissing her, I'd darned well better try it."
"Yes. The real point is not how you feel about kissing Tammie, but how
you feel about yourself. If you really like yourself and want to get over this

179

homosexual neurosis, and all the trouble which it has led you into and will
doubtlessly continue to cause as long as you live in this society, you will try
kissing Tammie, just as you would try swimming, or try adjusting to the
armed forces if you were drafted into them against your will. Only, kissing
females should be a little more enjoyable, once you have tried it, than swimming or adjusting to a period of service in the armed forces!"
Jack, for once, did try. The very next date he had with Tammie, he
avoided going out with her (which previously he was only too eager to do)
and instead stayed home with her and forced himself, literally forced himself, to try some petting. Much to his surprise, he discovered that her body
was much softer and nicer to touch than that of most of the males with
whom he had previously had sex relations; and it was she, this time, who
had to put him off, saying that she didn't feel she knew him well enough yet
to go as far as he obviously wanted to go. He could hardly wait to date her
again. In his therapy session that followed this first attempt at heterosexual
petting, he said:
"Let me be the first one to admit it: I was dead wrong. And you were one
hundred per cent right. My negative feelings about kissing Tammie were
entirely the result of my fear and resentment. I could see that when I first
put my arm around her. I almost died a thousand deaths, fearing that she
would push me away or, worse yet, make a laughing remark, like I used to
hear my sisters make when they were telling each other how stupid and
silly most of their boyfriends were and how they just couldn't stand their
kisses or caresses. But I pushed ahead anyway. I could almost hear you saying to me: 'See! it is fear. What do you mean you have no feeling for kissing
the girl?' And I said to myself: 'Damn right it's fear! But it's not going to
be this way forever. Screw it all, it's not!' And I kept my arm around her,

180 A Guide To Rational Living


and drew her to me, though my heart was beating like a goddamn drum
or something. And before I knew it, much to my surprise, she had turned
her face up and obviously wanted to be kissed. Imagine!-wanted to be
kissed by an old faggot like me! 'Well,' I said to myself, 'Here I'm scared
as hell that shell reject me and dump me out of the window or something
and she really wants it, she really honest-to-blazes wants it!' I didn't hesitate
after that. I just grabbed her and got the sweetest, juiciest kiss I never knew
even existed before. 'Hell,' I said to myself again, 'so this is what I've been
fighting against all these years, and keeping myself from working to get.
Hell, hell, hell!' That was it. No more of that crummy fear and fighting for
me. I know the game's not over, and I've got a long, long way to go yet. And
I know I'll still have to force myself at times. But once that initial old inertia starts to go-just as you said was the case-things can get awfully jumping enjoyable!"
Jack Monroe was on his way. Within the next year he had several affairs,
with Tammie and two other girls; enjoyed all of them immensely; and is
now engaged to Tammie and is looking forward to marrying her soon. His
sexual interest in males has vanished to the near-zero point and he is quite
sure that whatever little interest in them he has can easily be kept under
control for the rest of his life. His work (as a draftsman) has also improved
considerably; he is saving money for the first time in his life; and he finds
himself much less resentful toward both males and females.
"How can I take the time," he said at one of his last psychotherapy sessions, "to hate others and make up excuses for their holding me down when
I'm so busy, these days, caring for Tammie, devoting myself to my work
(which becomes more pleasurable almost every day), and doing everything possible to plan for my marital and vocational future? Inertia and passivity are for the birds! Too bad I haven't got more time to find some other
interesting projects to sink my teeth into!"
In many important respects, then, it would appear that action, particularly when it takes the form of creative, intensely absorbing activity, is one
of the mainstays of happy human living and that anyone who (consciously
or unconsciously) believes otherwise and who lives by a philosophy of inertia and inaction will sabotage his own potential satisfaction. More specifically, the kinds of actions which can be taken to help bring about fuller
living can include the following:
1. You should make a definite attempt to become vitally absorbed in
some persons or things outside yourself. Loving persons rather than things
or ideas has some distinct advantages: since other people can, in their turn,
love you back and can beautifully interact with you. But loving some longrange activity or idea-such as being vitally attached to an art or a profession-also has its great rewards, and in some respects may be more durOVERCOMING INERTIA AND BECOMING CREATIVELY ABSORBED
181
able, varied, and all-involving than loving a member of the other sex or a
close relative. Ideally, you should be able to love both persons and things;
but if you are, especially at a certain period of time, thoroughly absorbed
in one or the other, you may still be a happy and reasonably complete person.
2. Try to find some persons or things in which you can honestly be absorbed for their own sake and not for other "ego-raising" reasons. It may
be fine and noble if you love your own children; or your orphaned younger
brother; or if you are devoted to one of the helping professions, such as
teaching, psychology, or medicine. But you have a perfect right, as a human being, "selfishly" to devote yourself to the prettiest girl in town or to
an avocation, such as coin collecting, which has relatively little application
to human welfare. It is unlikely that you will genuinely love anyone or anything very deeply unless you follow the courage of your own convictions
and do not try to win the accolades of others by forcing yourself to be in-

terested in what you think they would like you to be.


3. In devoting yourself to any field of endeavor it is wise to choose a
challenging, long-range project or area rather than something simple or
short-ranged. Most highly intelligent individuals will not for very long remain highly absorbed in simply making a sexual conquest, stamp collecting,
playing checkers, or weight lifting: for these are pursuits that can be mastered in a short length of time and that then often become boring and unchallenging. Rather, try to select a goal such as writing a fine novel, being
an outstanding physicist, or winning and retaining a high-level marital relationship, since this kind of pursuit is likely to remain intriguing for some
time to come.
4. Don't expect vital absorptions to be self-evident or to develop quickly.
Because of inertia, fear of failure, or ignorance of the true depths of a given
subject, you may at first have to push yourself, experimentally and forcibly,
into a certain field of endeavor, and make yourself stick at it for a reasonable
length of time, before you really begin to become absorbed in and fascinated by it. Before you conclude that you definitely do not enjoy your relationship with a given person or your preoccupation with a given project,
give it an honest, fairly prolonged try. Then, if you still are not enamored,
you can look around for a different kind of absorption.
5. It is sometimes a good idea to vary your interests and have some minor
side projects going, even if you are absorbed in some major endeavor. This
is particularly true where the main person or thing with which you are involved may not be around forever, and where you may therefore be wise to
have some alternate involvements available. But even aside from this, man
is a creature of variety as well as of sustained goals; and you can easily go
stale if you only concentrate on one pursuit. If, therefore, you vary your

182 A Guide To Rational Living


reading, your hobbies, the organizations to which you belong, and your
circle of friends, you may remain more vitally alive than if you routinely
keep doing the same thing over and over again.
6. Inertia and inaction may be combatted by tracking down your own
irrational anxieties and hostilities that almost invariably lie at their source.
If you are self-defeatingly inert, you almost certainly are telling yourself
some nonsense---such as "It is easier and better for me to let others do
things for me than to do them myself" or "Wouldn't it be terrible if I risked
writing that novel and miserably failed?" You must force yourself to see
that you are saying these self-sabotaging sentences and must challenge,
question, contradict them, most vigorously and consistently, until you
change them for saner, motion-impelling self-verbalizations.
7. Self-talk is not enough. In the final analysis, you must literally force
yourself, propel yourself, push yourself into action. Often, you must make
yourself-yes, make yourself-undertake specific acts of courage: beard
an employer in his office, ask a very beautiful girl to dance, take your idea
for a book to a publisher. And you must keep forcing yourself into action
long enough and often enough until the action itself becomes easier and
easier, and often even enjoyable.
8. It is sometimes valuable, deliberately to adopt a role that is quite different from your usual one and for a period of time to force yourself to
live up to this assumed role. If you are actually shy and retiring, and for a
day or a week can act as if you are one of the most outgoing and assertive
individuals you know, you may find it relatively easy, after acting out that
role, to be less inhibited. The more you force yourself to do a thing that
you are "sure" you cannot do, the more you may prove how mythical your
"certainty" is and may show yourself that you can do this thing.

Living Rationally
in an
Irrational
20 World

A MORE IRRATIONAL world than the one in which we presently live could
hardly be conceived. In spite of the enormous advances in technical knowledge made during the last century, and the theoretical possibility all of us
living in peace and prosperity, we actually exist perilously close to the brink
of local strife, world war, economic insecurity, political skullduggery, organized crime, business fraud, sexual violence, racial bigotry, labor and
management inefficiency, religious fanaticism, and scores of similar manifestations of idiocy and inhumanity.
On a more personal scale, conditions are equally bad or worse. None of
us-no, not a single, solitary one of us-can fail to have intimate encounters,
almost every day of our lives, with several individuals (be they bosses or
employees, husbands or wives, children or parents, friends or enemies) who
are stupid, ignorant, ineffective, provocative, frustrating, vicious, or seriously disturbed. Modern life, instead of being just a bowl of cherries, more
closely resembles a barrel of prune pits.
Nevertheless: a human being in today's world does not have to be unhappy. Wonderfully enough, along with his being endowed with more than
his share of inanity and insanity, man also has a remarkable capacity for
straight thinking. And, as we noted in the opening pages of this book, if he
intelligently organizes and disciplines his thinking and his actions, he can
live a decidedly self-fulfilling, creative, and emotionally satisfying life even
in the highly unsatisfactory world of today.

183

184
Rational Living

A Guide To

The main practical points that we have made in this volume may
be summarized as follows:
Your desires and emotions are not mysterious, uncontrollable
forces that
drive you to do their bidding. Although they are deeply rooted in
your phys-

i
c
a
l
a
n
d
h

istorical being and are therefore partly beyond your immediate


control, they are also closely allied to your thinking and are
consequently
largely within your eventual control. Where the wishes and feelings
of
lower animals and of young children are almost entirely dependent
upon
their inborn urges and the influences of their surrounding
environment, the
human adult is the one being who, with thinking and action, can
radically
alter his own emotional responses and considerably control his own
destiny.
Thinking, like emotion, is a complex bi-social process that is
intimately
related to your perceiving, moving, and desiring and does not have
a completely pure and independent existence. Although you cannot
maintain
perfect control over your thinking, you can-by observing,
analyzing,
questioning, and changing the sentences of which it largely
consists-significantly change and regulate it. At the same time, by controlling a
considerable amount of your thinking in this manner, you can also
learn to
change and regulate much of your emoting.
Emotional disturbance or neurosis essentially consists of letting
your
emotions run away with you: of being hysterically over-concerned
about
certain people and things on the one hand, or being defensively
under-concerned on the other hand. While some individuals may be
physically predisposed to become seriously disturbed, most neurotics appear to
learn to
think in an ignorance-based or irrational manner and thereby
disturb themselves. Although potentially capable of thinking straight and
effectively
controlling their behavior, they become habituated to thinking
illogically
and forcing themselves to engage in self-defeating behavior.
If you would control your emotions effectively and keep yourself
from
leading a self-defeating, neurotic existence, you must discard the
major
irrational ideas that you (and millions of your fellow members of
this society) acquired early in life. These ideas, which once may have

b
e
e
n
a
p
p
r
o
p
r
i
a
t
e
(
i
n
v
i
e
w
o
f
y
o
u
r
h
e
l
p
l
e
s
s
s
t
a
t
e

as an infant and child) or which


always may have been irrational and inappropriate resulted from
(a) your
early inability to think straight (particularly your childish insistence
on
immediate gratification rather than on future gains and your being
unable
to accurately distinguish real from imagined dangers); (b) your
dependence as a child on the planning and thinking of others; (c) the
superstitions
and prejudices inculcated in you by your parents; and (d) the
indoctrinations of the mass media of the society in which you were reared.
Although, as you grew older, you probably challenged and
questioned
your early-acquired irrational premises to some extent, you also
held on
LIVING RATIONALLY IN AN IRRATIONAL WORLD

tenaciously and defensively to many of them, and have kept reindoctrinating yourself with them until the present. It is this reindoctrination-which
unconsciously but very forcefully and persistently goes on day after daywhich mainly serves to keep your original irrationalities alive, in spite of
the devastating results which they continue to have on your adult behavior.
And it is largely by closely observing your self-sentences and making yourself fully aware of your continuous reindoctrlnating processes, that you can
learn to contradict and counter-attack the irrational ideas with which you
originally were reared and which you are now perpetuating.
At the same time, because your irrational thinking has (over the years)
led to pernicious forms of action or inaction (to tendencies, for example,
to lash out at others impulsively 'Or anxiously to refrain from doing what you
really want to do in life), you must actively as well as thinkingly challenge
your hostile or inhibited ways of behaving. Thus, you must literally force
yourself to give up childish impulse gratification (such as lying, stealing,
attention-getting, or addiction to drugs or alcohol) or to do the things you
are illogically afraid of doing (such as socializing, courting members of the
other sex, or going for job interviews).
Only this kind of double-barreled, simultaneous attack on your deeplyingrained irrational ideas and self-defeating behavior is likely to be truly
effective. For vigorous thinking about your emotional upsets or inhibitions
will serve to pave the way to appropriate action or restraint; and forceful
counteraction against your anxieties and hostilities will serve as the very
best form of de-propagandization of the silly ideas that lie behind them.
Thinking and doing are equally indispensable in attacking your oldest and
deepest self-defeating tendencies.
Some of the major irrational ideas which you must strongly and persistently challenge, as well as forcefully propel yourself to act against, include these all-pervading beliefs of our society:
1. You should challenge the belief that it is a dire necessity for you to
be loved or approved by almost everyone for almost everything you do. Instead, you should try to stand on your own two feet; keep the approval of

185

others as a desirable but not necessary goal; seriously and self-correctively


consider other people's criticisms of you without dreadfully hurting yourself with their negative evaluations; and continually and mainly strive to
do what you really enjoy doing rather than what other people think you
ought to do in life.
2. Give up the notion of trying to be thoroughly competent, adequate,
and achieving in all possible respects. Try to do rather than to do perfectly.
Try to better your own performances rather than those of others. Strive, if
you will, to be a better artist, ballplayer, or business man than you now
are; but do not delude yourself that you will be a better person if you

186 A Guide To Rational Living


achieve your goal. Strongly desire and work for success in your chosen
fields; but be ready to accept failures as undesirable but not dreadful-as
having nothing whatever to do with your intrinsic value as a human being.
3. Get rid of the idea that certain people are bad, wicked, or villainous
and that they should be severely blamed or punished for their sins. Accept
your own and others' wrongdoings objectively and un-moralistically: as
misdeeds to learn from and to correct in the future. Fully acknowledge the
fallibility of yourself and others and make due allowances for the possibility-indeed, the practical certainty-of your and their continuing to make
numerous errors and mistakes. Learn to distinguish between an individual's
being responsible for his actions (which he frequently is and should be)
and being to blame for these actions (which he never should be). See that
when you blame yourself or others you are being perfectionistic and grandiose, and that you are thereby invariably helping to perpetuate rather
than correct your or their misdeeds. Never confuse an individual with his
acts, a person who acts badly with a bad person.
4. Combat the idea that it is terrible, horrible, and catastrophic when
things are not going the way you would like them to go. When conditions
are not the way you would prefer them to be, calmly and determinedly try
to change them for the better; and when, for the moment, they cannot be
changed, the only sane thing to do is quietly to accept them (and wait and
plan for the time when they finally can be changed). The greater your loss
or frustration is, the more philosophic you must be in regard to it: the more
you must accept the fact that it is bad and undesirable-but not catastrophic or unbearable.
5. You should reject the hypothesis that human unhappiness is externally
caused and that you have little or no ability to control your sorrows or rid
yourselves of your negative feelings. Instead, you should realize that most
of your own misery is created by your own irrational thinking, your own
self-propagandization; and that you can eliminate most of your despair or
anger by changing your thinking or your self-talk. If you ferret out your
own illogical shoulds, oughts, and musts and replace your childish demands
with realistic preferences, you need rarely make yourself anxious or upset.
6. You should rid yourself of the idea that if something is or may be
dangerous or fearsome, you should be terribly occupied with and upset
about it. You should seriously question the real dangers about the things
you fear and see what the actual probabilities are of their occurring or
leading to terribly dreadful consequences if they do occur. If you are to live
fully and creatively, you simply have to accept certain inevitable dangers
and risks that go with contemporary life. Most of your over-concern is
doubtless definitional-follows from your own catastrophizing internalized
sentences-and can be eliminated by your observing and questioning your

187

LIVING RATIONALLY IN AN IRRATIONAL WORLD

definitional assumptions: especially your assumptions that you must always please others and achieve remarkably well.
7. You should stop trying to run away from many life difficulties and
self-responsibilities. Short-range hedonism, or the insistence on immediate
gratifications, is a senseless philosophy in most instances and must be surrendered for a harder-headed, longer-range approach to pleasure and enjoyment. You should determine what are the truly necessary activities of
life-and then, no matter how unpleasant they may be, unrebelliously and
promptly perform them. Although acquiring a considerable degree of selfdiscipline may seem unduly difficult, in the long run the "easy" and undisciplined way is the harder and less rewarding way and is clearly selfsabotaging.
8. You should surrender the idea that the past is all-important and that

because something once strongly affected your life it should do so indefinitely. While considering your past history seriously and trying to do
your best to learn valuable lessons from it, you should realize that your
present is your past of tomorrow and that working to change the present
may enable you to make yourself a radically better future. Continual rethinking of your old assumptions and re-working of your past habits can
help eradicate most of the pernicious influences from your childhood and
adolescence.
9. You should give up the notion that people and things should be
different from the way they are and that it is catastrophic if perfect solutions to the grim realities of life are not immediately found. Whether you
like it or not, reality is reality and simply must be accepted as it is before
you can set about changing it. At times, you have to accept many compromise and reasonable solutions rather than perfect and certain solutions
to life problems.
10. You should combat the idea that maximum human happiness can be
achieved by inertia and inaction or by passively and uncommittedly "enjoying yourself." Make a definite attempt to become vitally absorbed in
some persons or things outside yourself; and find persons or things in
which you can honestly be absorbed for their own sake rather than for the
sake of being socially approved. In devoting yourself to any field of endeavor, try to choose a challenging, long-range project or area of work.
Force yourself, by specific acts of courage, to take risks, to act against
your own inertia, to be committedly alive.
Summing up. While taking good care to avoid needlessly and gratuitously hurting others, you should consistently try to be you: on the one
hand, to be self-interestedly devoted to those pursuits which are likely
to bring you the greatest satisfaction in your relatively brief span of life;
and, on the other hand, to be lovingly, absorbedly devoted to people and

188 A Guide To Rational Living


things outside yourself because you truly enjoy this kind of involvement.
Your paramount absorption should unashamedly be the fulfillment of your
own desires, your morality that of enlightened self-interest and unabashed
individualism.
The sane and truly enlightened individualist, however, will not define
his desires as demands, nor his preferences as needs. He will be carefully
considerate of others because he realizes that only by such consideration
can he hope to build and sustain the kind of world he wants to live in. And
he will be lovingly devoted, in most instances, to selected other people because through such intimate relationships he can more fully know and
enjoy himself.
These, then, would appear to be some of the most essential rules for
following the sound and intelligent life: a life, that is to say, based on
knowledge and reason, and dedicated to the proposition that through your
reasoning powers you may best achieve a highly satisfying emotional existence. Will the following of these rules absolutely ensure your living
a maximally creative and happy life? Not necessarily: because, as we have
several times noted in this book, there are some important intra- and interpersonal factors that are not entirely within your control.
Accidents and physical ailments do occur. Environmental circumstances
sometimes are impossibly constricting. War and famine, pestilence and
destruction still, even in this relatively enlightened age, show their ugly
fangs. But the human spirit, when freed of ignorance and cant, has remarkable resiliency. However bowed and bent it may temporarily be, it
still may throw off its unthinking and conventionalist chains, and rise above
some of the meanest physical and ideological handicaps.
You, as a human, potentially have that spirit. If you resolutely strive to
think, fight to act, you can probably use it to good effect. If, after making
a concerted effort to question your own basic premises and to propel yourself to act against your self-defeating habit patterns, you still find yourself
beset by intense, frequent, or prolonged feelings of anxiety or hostility,
then you probably need psychotherapeutic help. By all means, in these
circumstances, go for intensive psychotherapy-even a little of which may
be enormously helpful in setting you on the right track.
If you are not too emotionally blocked or upset to benefit from the
rational approach to human living that we have outlined in this book, then
try to see what you can do by working, working, and (yes, everlastingly)
working at it. Good luck-and good reasoning!

References
(Items which are starred in this list of references may be of particular help
to readers who are interested in additional reading.)

*Adler, Alfred. Understanding Human Nature. New York: Greenberg,


1927.
* Adler, Alfred. The Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology. New
York: Harcourt, Brace, 1939.
* Alexander, Franz, and French, Thomas M. Psychoanalytic Therapy.
New York: Ronald, 1946.
* Anderson, Camilla M. Saints, Sinners and Psychiatry. Philadelphia:
Lippincott, 1950.
*Ansbacher, Heinz, and Ansbacher, Rowena. The Individual Psychology
of Alfred Adler. New York: Basic Books, 1956.
*Bach, G. R. Intensive Group Psychotherapy. New York: Ronald,1954.
*Brenner, Charles. An Elementary Textbook of Psychoanalysis. New York:
Doubleday, 1957.
*Brown, M. Bevan. The Sources of Love and Fear. New York: Vanguard,
1950.
* Cameron, Norman and Magaret, Ann. Behavior Pathology. Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1951.
Cobb, Stanley. Emotions and Clinical Medicine. New York: Norton, 1950.
*Dollard, John, and Miller, Neal E. Personality and Psychotherapy. New
York: McGraw Hill, 1950.
Ellis, Albert. An Introduction to the Principles of Scientific Psychoanalysis.
Provincetown, Mass.: Journal Press, 1950.
189

190 A Guide to Rational Living


Ellis, Albert. The Folklore of Sex. New York: Charles Boni, 1951. Rev. ed.,
New York: Grove Press, 1961.
Ellis, Albert. The American Sexual Tragedy. New York: Twayne, 1954.
New York: Lyle Stuart, 1959.
Ellis, Albert. New Approaches to Psychotherapy Techniques. Brandon,
Vermont: Journal of Clinical Psychology, 1955.
Ellis, Albert. "An Operational Reformulation of Some of the Basic Principles of Psychoanalysis." Psychoanalytic Review, 1956, 43, 163-180.
Also published in Feigl, Herbert and Scriven, Michael (Eds.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 1. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956.
*Ellis, Albert. How to Live with a Neurotic. New York: Crown Publishers,
1957a.
Ellis, Albert. "Outcome of Employing Three Techniques of Psychotherapy." I. Clinical Psychol., 1957b, 13, 344-350.
Ellis, Albert. "Rational Psychotherapy." ]. General Psychol., 1958a, 59,
35-49.
Ellis, Albert. "Rational Psychotherapy and Individual Psychology." J.
Individual Psychol., 1958b, 13, 38-44.
Ellis, Albert. "Neurotic Interaction Between Marital Partners." J. Counseling Psychol., 1958c., 5, 24-28.
*Ellis, Albert. Sex Without Guilt. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1958d.
Ellis, Albert. "Rationalism and Its Therapeutic Applications." Annals of
Psychotherapy, Monograph No.2., 1959a, 1, 55-64.
Ellis, Albert. "The Treatment of a Psychopath With Rational Psychotherapy." Quaderni di Criminologia Clinica, 1959b, 2, 173-184; J. Psychology, 1961, 51, 141-150.
Ellis, Albert. "Requisite Conditions for Basic Personality Change." J.
Consulting Psychol., 1959c, 23, 538-540.
Ellis, Albert. "Treatment of a Homosexual With Rational Psychotherapy."
J. Clinical Psychol., 1959d, 15,338-343.
Ellis, Albert. "Guilt, Shame, and Frigidity." Quart. Rev. Surg. Obstet. &
Gynecol., 195ge, 16, 25~261.
Ellis, Albert. "Does Morality Require Religious Sanctions." Controversy,
June, 1959f.
*Ellis, Albert. The Art and Science of Love. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1960a.
Ellis, Albert. "There is No Place for the Concept of Sin in Psychotherapy."
J. Counseling Psychol., 1960b, 7, 188-192.
*Ellis, Albert, and Abarbanel, Albert (Eds.). Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior. 2 vols. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1961.
*Ellis, Albert, and Harper, Robert A. Creative Marriage. New York: Lyle
Stuart, 1961.
REFERENCES

Ellis, Albert, Krassner, Paul, and Wilson, Robert A. "An Impolite Interview With Albert Ellis." The Realist, March and May, 1960.
Epictetus. The Works of Epictetus. Translated by Thomas W. Higginson.
Boston: Little, Brown, 1899.
Erikson, Erik. Childhood and Society. New York: Norton, 1950.
Fenichel, Otto. Psychoanalytic Theory of Neurosis. New York: Norton,
1945.
Freeman, Lucy. Fight Against Fears. New York: Crown, 1951.
Freud, Sigmund. Collected Papers. New York: Hogarth Press, 1924-1950.
Freud, Sigmund. Basic Writings. New York: Modem Library, 1938.
*Freud, Sigmund. An Outline of Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton, 1949.
Fromm, Erich. Escape from Freedom. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1939.
Fromm, Erich. Man for Himself. New York: Rinehart, 1947.
Fromm, Erich. The Sane Society. New York: Rinehart, 1955.
Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. New York: Harper, 1956.

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Gardner, Wallace J., Licklider, J. C. R, and Weisz, A. Z. "Suppression of


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Hall, Calvin S. A Primer of Freudian Psychology. Cleveland: World Pub.
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Harper, Robert A. Marriage. New York: Appleton, 1949.
Harper, Robert A. "Marriage Counseling: Art or Science." Marr. Fam.
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A Guide to Rational Living

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About the Authors

ALBERT ELLIS WAS born

in Pittsburgh and grew up in New York City. He


holds a bachelor's degree from the College of the City of New York; and
M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University.
He has taught at Rutgers University and New York University; has been
Chief Psychologist of the New Jersey State Diagnostic Center and then
Chief Psychologist of the New Jersey Department of Institutions and
Agencies; and for the last several years has been in the private practice of
psychotherapy and marriage and family counseling in New York City.
Dr. Ellis is a fellow of the American Psychological Association (and
President of its Division of Consulting Psychology) and of the American
Sociological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is the President of the Society for the Scientific Study
of Sex; and has been a member of the Executive Committee of the American Academy of Psychotherapists, the American Association of Marriage
Counselors, Psychologists in Private Practice, and the New York Society of
Clinical Psychologists. He has been Chairman of the Marriage Counseling
Section of the National Council on Family Relations and an Associate
Editor of Marriage and Family Living, the International Journal of Sexology, and the Journal of Sexual Research.
Dr. Ellis has published well over a hundred and fifty papers in psychological, psychiatric, and sociological journals and has authored or
edited the following books and monographs: An Introduction to the

Principles of Scientific Psychoanalysis, The Folklore of Sex, Sex, Society

194

About the Authors

195

and the Individual (with A. P. Pillay), Sex Life of the American Woman
and the Kinsey Report, The American Sexual Tragedy, New Approaches
to Psychotherapy Techniques, The Psychology of Sex Offenders (with
Ralph Brancale ), How to Live with a Neurotic, Sex Without Guilt, The
Art and Science of Love, What is Psychotherapy?, The Place of Values in
the Practice of Psychotherapy, The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior
(with Albert Abarbanel), Creative Marriage (with Robert A. Harper),
and A Guide to Rational Living (with Robert A. Harper).
ROBERT A. HARPER was trained in psychology, anthropology, and
sociology at Ohio State University, where he received his Ph.D. degree in
1942; and then took post-doctoral training in psychotherapy in Detroit, New
York, and Washington. He has taught at several leading universities and
directed counseling clinics and counselor training programs at both Ohio
State University and the Merill-Palmer Institute in Detroit. During World
War II, Dr. Harper served as a psychiatric social worker in the United States
Army. Since 1953, he has been in the private practice of psychotherapy and
marriage and family counseling in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Harper is President of the American Academy of Psychotherapists
and of the American Association of Marriage Counselors. He is a Fellow
of the American Psychological Association, a member of the American
Group Psychotherapy Association, a charter member of the Society for the
Scientific Study of Sex, and a member of the Executive Committee of
Psychologists in Private Practice. He has been Chairman of the Marriage
Counseling Section of the National Council on Family Relations, an
Associate Editor of Marriage and Family Living and of the Journal of
Sexual Research, and the Book Review Editor of the International Journal
of Sexology and the Journal of Family Welfare.
Dr. Harper has written more than fifty papers for professional publications and numerous articles in popular magazines. He is also author of
Marriage, Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: 36 Systems, and co-author
of Problems of American Society (with John F. Cuber and William F.
Kenkel) and Creative Marriage (with Albert Ellis). A Guide to Rational
Living is the second of a series of collaborations by Dr. Harper and Dr.
Ellis and will be followed in the near future by a major volume on Rational
Psychotherapy and a multi-volumed Handbook of Psychotherapeutic
Techniques.